Wealth redistribution, environmental protection, and an ambitious housebuilding program look to be at the heart of Ardern’s agenda for government, writes Dan Crawford
It was not until the wily old performer Winston Peters started his speech in Beehive on Thursday that Jacinda Ardern got her first inkling that she could be New Zealand’s youngest prime minister in 150 years. The Labour leader, whose remarkable rise from Andrew Little’s engaging deputy to the youngest democratically-elected leader in the world began when she electrified the country after becoming leader of the opposition only a few months ago, said today that when the New Zealand First leader spoke about all New Zealanders sharing the country’s wealth, she felt Labour were about to break National’s nine-year stranglehold on the Treasury benches.
The departing prime minister, Bill English, might feel miffed at not earning a full shot at the job he coveted for so long but his 44 per cent share of the vote counted for little under New Zealand’s mixed-member proportional electoral system. He might have got away with calling Ardern ‘stardust’ in the first television debate and an aggressive campaign that targeted her inexperience and gender were it not for the special votes, tallied two weeks after polling day, that took two seats from National and gave Peters, who had previously kept a curious country waiting by going fishing during coalition negotiations, a real choice.
For Peters, desperate at 72 to see his party succeed his own career, it was no choice at all. He had borne the brunt of frenzied National attacks in the campaign and New Zealand First’s own billboards had succinctly asked voters: ‘Had enough?’ Ardern, the undoubted star of an election campaign that saw her denounce sexism and xenophobia as well as decrying the government’s pitiful record on education and inequality, played a superb hand during the coalition negotiations and now has the chance to lead a transformative government.
The 37 year-old, who is a governmental novice bar the briefest of spells working for Phil Goff, Helen Clark and in Tony Blair’s cabinet office, has already signalled she will seek to implement much of Labour’s lofty campaign platform. Speaking to her colleagues on Friday afternoon, Ardern – who had publicly chastised herself for not winning as many votes as she should have done in the aftermath of the inconclusive result – reiterated her commitment to ensuring her caucus was half female and laid out a bold agenda for government, undeterred by the likely ferocity of National’s opposition.
With words as striking as any uttered during the campaign, the incoming prime minister described her vision of New Zealand as a ‘country where our environment is protected, where we look after the most vulnerable, where we support our families, where we make sure people have the most basic of needs, like a roof over their head.’ Ardern stressed her commitment to delivering on equal pay for women and recognising the unpaid caring role in the statute book as well as establishing a climate change commission, raising student allowances and setting up inquiries into New Zealand’s mental health crisis and the abuse of children in state care.
The most symbolic moment during Ardern’s race to become her country’s new leader was when she was introduced by Helen Clark before unveiling Labour’s manifesto. Living up to Clark’s legacy will prove difficult, even with a confidence and supply arrangement agreed with the Greens, but Ardern has certainly proven she is tough enough. After a torturous wait, New Zealand can now toast ‘Jacintime’.
Dan Crawford is a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Ealing. He tweets at @dancrawford85
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