Jacinda Ardern: By Doing Politics Differently, She Changed the Game and Saved Her Party
This week marks the beginning of Jacinda Ardern’s life outside parliament, since she officially ceased to be an electorate MP at midnight last Saturday. Her legacy as prime minister will be discussed and disputed, but there’s no doubt her influence will continue to be felt, both in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally.
When Ardern delivered her valedictory statement earlier this month, I was in Canada as a visiting speaker at the University of Alberta. My lectures and workshops included sessions on gender politics and the pandemic, media representations of women leaders, and the possibilities for leading with kindness. Invariably, audiences wanted to know more about Jacinda Ardern.
People questioned why New Zealanders appeared to have forgotten their country’s internationally recognised success in the fight against COVID-19. They were curious about why New Zealanders were reportedly feeling antipathy towards a prime minister whose commitment to tolerance and multilateralism was praised overseas.
As citizens of a country that is home to three constitutionally recognised Aboriginal groups and numerous treaties, Canadians asked why the Ardern-led government’s Indigenous policy initiatives seemed so “unsettling for settlers”.
And they wondered whether it was inevitable that Ardern would face hostility from a noisy minority that disliked being governed by a young woman, who became a mother while in office and who used the language of kindness.
There was also some bemusement. The coverage they had seen of Ardern’s leadership experience sat at odds with their perception of New Zealand as an egalitarian and liberal society where women prime ministers and party leaders were almost commonplace.