If Jacinda is the answer it must have been a really silly question

The serious politician?

Not many people know this, but in 2008 David Farrar and I had a long lunch with Jacinda Ardern in Morrinsville.

It was pleasant enough but I was left with the distinct impression that Jacinda Ardern was living a dream and a plan created by other people…for her.

She also left me with the impression that she was nothing but a collection of bumper sticker slogans and she had about as much depth as a car park puddle in Alice Springs.

Now the Media party are pushing hard for her to be the deputy leader of the Labour party and replace septuagenarian Annette King.

Chris Trotter has fallen for it also. He thinks that Labour’s future rest upon Jacinda Ardern’s reluctant shoulders.

“Jacinda” was the only name on Labour’s by-election billboards. Andrew Little will have noted that. When the electorate starts identifying politicians by their given name – “Rob”, “Winston”, “Helen” – it signals a significant up-tick in political familiarity. It’s easy to vote for a candidate who requires no second name. “Jacinda” has acquired a winning ring.

If Little doesn’t respond to Jacinda Ardern’s emphatic by-election victory in Mt Albert by promoting her to deputy-leader, then he’s a fool. Success merits promotion. Any failure on Little’s part to acknowledge Arden’s pulling-power in Auckland will only fuel suspicions that he lacks the fortitude to shake-up the delicate factional balance of Labour’s caucus.

Emphatic? Less that a quarter of enrolled voters actually bothered to vote. That’s not emphatic, it is a joke.

Little simply cannot afford to let such suspicions grow: not inside Labour, and certainly not beyond it. Voters only make prime ministers out of politicians who can see not only what needs to be done, but who also possess the guts to do it. Little should tell Annette King (who first entered Parliament as the MP for Horowhenua in 1984) that she has sat there too long for any good she has been doing. Like Oliver Cromwell, he needs to tell her: “Depart, and let us have done with you. In the name of God – go!”

If I may be forgiven for quoting Cromwell a second time: removing King has become a matter of “cruel necessity”. Having embarked upon a radical re-shaping of Labour’s public image: reclaiming its former status as a “broad church” by bringing in the likes of Greg O’Connor and Willie Jackson; Little now needs to reassure Auckland’s young urban professionals (who’ve just voted for Jacinda in droves) that there is plenty of space on Labour’s pews for them.

I’m not sure anyone has bothered to ask Jacinda if she even wants the job. But what is striking in the assumption, a correct one I might add, that Andrew Little is so unlovely to the electorate that a pretty face might save them from a really bad defeat, and instead allow them a face-saving defeat. As for voting in droves…and the claim it was young urban professionals, there is no way Chris Trotter can sustain that argument. For a start 10,000 is hardly droves, and he has no way of knowing if any of those votes were from young people. In fact, I’d put money on that they weren’t…because history shows us the young are more interested in rooting, drinking and smoking drugs than voting.

Sacrifices will be necessary on Ardern’s part as well. First and foremost she must tear up the “Gracinda” (Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern) ticket upon which she ran against Little in 2014. The brutal truth she needs to face is that, in the eyes of the voters, at least, she has moved well beyond Robertson. His big moment arrived three years ago when he came agonisingly close to being elected Labour’s leader. He will not have forgotten, and neither should we, that he lost to Little by less than one percentage point.

Three years on, however, that losing margin may just as well have been 50 percentage points. Robertson’s star is fading. Indeed, amidst all the intense jockeying between Labour, the Greens and NZ First which is bound to follow a National defeat, he will struggle to retain his finance portfolio.

Ardern needs to move beyond the poignant television images of her and Robertson on the edge of tears, but applauding bravely, as Little’s victory is announced. The deputy-leader’s slot is hers for the taking now, and she should take it. Her star has a long way yet to rise.

In making Ardern his number two, Little would not only be making a statement about Labour’s future, he would also be moving decisively beyond Labour’s past. Sometimes, party leaders are required to anticipate their own, inevitable, demise by providing the public with a clear line of succession. Like a medieval king, they need to proclaim their dynasty’s strength by holding up a political heir for the people’s approbation.

Has anyone asked Jacinda? I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want the job.

In any case, if Jacinda is the answer to Labour’s problems then the questions asked were pretty silly. I’ll go further and say that if Jacinda is the future of Labour then they may as well euthanise the party now.

 

– Fairfax

 

 


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