My first reaction to last Thursday’s news that prime minister Jacinda Ardern had resigned was a visceral sense of relief that a vicious war was over; the second was admiration for her political judgment. Regret will undoubtedly come later though it probably looks like: “We had a great leader and we blued it.”
As Māori party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said in aftermath: “It is a sad day for politics where an outstanding leader has been driven from office for constant personalisation and vilification.
“Her whānau have withstood the ugliest attacks over the last two years with what we believe to be the most demeaning form of politics we have ever seen”.
The writing on the wall goes back to the ugly tricks set out by Nicky Hager in his books Dirty Politics and The Hollow Men and a culture imported from Washington. This culture was pedalled by Australian political coaches and influencers Crosbie Textor 20 years ago and they surfaced in Michael Hooton’s Metro magazine columns slagging Jacinda as a rising Labour politician in 2015. He predicted her as a one-term prime minister five years later.
Social media has since hit its straps as a global force – some of it for good, but much more for very, very bad. To the point where it now poses an existential threat to decency, democracy and humanity itself. We have had a year of relentless – and often breathtakingly hypocritical – political slogging that had previously been confined to election years.
By this Christmas, and with nine months to go to the next election, it had all but eclipsed Jacinda’s achievements in setting up the political reset the country voted for across all demographics in 2021s Labour landslide. No matter that she had almost immediately achieved star leadership quality on the global stage – for the country, our trade, our mana and for humanity.
By cutting the knot, now, Jacinda has unravelled the toxic bolus of damaging rhetoric fed by social media, shallow and formulaic news commentary, political opportunism, and her own country’s residual misogyny.
This leaves the election to be fought on ongoing, genuine policy and her considerable achievements to date, both nationally and internationally.
As former prime minister Helen Clark said, “in this era of social media, clickbait and 24/7 media cycles, Jacinda has faced a level of hatred and vitriol which in my experience is unprecedented in our country,” she said.
“Our society could now usefully reflect on whether it wants to continue to tolerate the excessive polarisation which is making politics an increasingly unattractive calling.”
We could also question media’s slide towards party-political commentators rather than genuine journalism and authoritative and facts-based reporting.
Meanwhile, plaudits pouring in to acknowledge Ms Ardern paint a wider picture of her “steadfast contribution”.
“Investment to strengthen the public service overseen by Jacinda Ardern as prime minister will pay dividends for generations to come,” said Kerry Davies of the Public Service Association.
“Jacinda Ardern can be proud of the legacy she leaves for working people and the strengthened community and public services they rely on. [Her] government has implemented the most far-reaching reforms to the public service since the 1980s.”
Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said her government had delivered record employment, record wage rises and improvements to the lives of working people including 26 weeks paid parental leave, Fair Pay Agreements and increasing the minimum wage by over 30 percent, while its Covid response had protected the economy and workers’ jobs.
The Child Poverty Action Group also acknowledged the work that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had done to put child poverty on the political agenda.
“The Child Poverty Reduction Act means we now have a political requirement to report on progress (or lack thereof) on child poverty. It can no longer be ignored and written off. The Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy is now a statutory policy. Strict procedures for amendment or review have been introduced which will offer long-term protection for children in the face of political change.
“The estimated one million school lunches supplied each week ensures that children have the food they need to learn and grow.”
Ms Ardern’s government budget figures aren’t bad either. Our GDP to debt ratio is one is of the lowest among developed countries and taxes payable by corporations were up by 24.2 percent to $4.8 billion, while taxes payable by individuals was up $6.5 billion or 14.3 percent in the year to June 2022.
There are many ways that we communicate with words – to describe, to inform and to generate a future. Jacinda’s final words after Thursday’s composed and gracious resignation was one of the later. “I hope… I leave behind a belief that you can be kind, but strong. Empathetic, but decisive. Optimistic, but focused.” • Liz Waters