The Dim-Post

August 31, 2015

Lost in the forest of Ardern

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:50 am

There were a few more Jacinda Ardern columns over the weekend. Pearl Going wrote a piece in defense of her in the NBR. Grant Robertson stood up for her on Facebook. And there was much debate in the comments of the previous post.

  • Ardern seems likely to be a significant presence in NZ politics. This is good news for her and also for National, I think, because Ardern’s positive qualities are mostly qualities that Andrew Little does not have.
  • There will be a lot of ugly gendered attacks against her
  • There will be an ongoing debate about her rise to prominence using soft media and a confused debate about whether this debate is an ugly gendered attack.
  • Ardern’s defenders insist that she is very intelligent and hard-working, but do not point to examples of these qualities manifesting themselves. (Grant Robertson cites her policy work).
  • One of the few ways MPs can distinguish themselves in opposition is through private members bills. You can wedge the government on a popular issue (like Sue Moroney with paid parental leave) or work to get your bill passed and make real change (like Louisa Wall). Ardern’s 2013 Care of Children Bill did neither. It was widely mocked across the political spectrum and seen as a disaster for cross-Parliamentary reform on adoption. It’s one of the major reasons she is, or at least was regarded as a style-over-substance lightweight among political circles.
  • So I remain an Ardern skeptic but I am ever mindful that I thought David Cunliffe would work out brilliantly, so I am open to persuasion. If Ardern is as talented as her defenders claim Labour will be looking for opportunities to display this and I’m curious to see what they come up with.


  1. I am also am an Adern skeptic. She is very charming on a personal level, and I am sure she works just as hard as her supporters suggest. However, I have seen little evidence of good policy work and her performance when pitted against Paula Bennett was dire. She basically seemed to take a position just slightly to the left of Paula and did very little to expose the effects of the policies Paula had instigated. I suspect she is very happy operating in middle class circles and makes little effort to move out of her comfort zone.

    Comment by Karen — August 31, 2015 @ 9:19 am

  2. I just hope she doesn’t suffer from Upton-Maharey Syndrome. Once you’re installed by the omniscient oracles as a future Prime Minister, that ensures you won’t be.

    On the plus side, this means we won’t be getting Judith Collins (previous Future PM) or Paula Bennett (current one).

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — August 31, 2015 @ 9:23 am

  3. I’ve yet to see evidence that she could be effective (though I haven’t looked hard) But I think the Labour Party, in all the wisdom it’s demonstrated over the past 7 years, thinks she’s future leadership material, and that that’s possibly why she’s being pushed into soft media moreso than because she supposedly matches the forum more than other politicians.

    Comment by izogi — August 31, 2015 @ 9:28 am

  4. Labour are using “soft media” to promote one of their politicians who fits that image. If it helps to get rid of the NACTs, then go for it. End of story.

    Comment by anker — August 31, 2015 @ 10:10 am

  5. The adoption bill was a disaster, there’s no question of that. And she had her name to it.

    The charitable interpretation is that it was developed at a time in which Labour had just started to recover from its 2008 thrashing in which it had been seen as “too PC” , and an arms-length development of adoption laws through the Law Commission was a way of avoiding another s59 style thrashing. (A situation in which other parties claimed to support the aims of the bill, and then grandstanded (National, ACT, United Future) or proclaimed moral purity (Greens)). Would Ardern have put forward a much stronger bill if enabled by her caucus? Probably.

    The paucity of this approach was made evident by the fact that Kevin Hague had a fully developed and comprehensive bill in the ballot. However, despite their praise National refused (and still refuses) to adopt as a government bill, giving you a strong indication of their willingness to sacrifice this issue for political gain. The unfortunate casualty of the bill was Ardern’s reputation rather than the Labour Party, and she has to work to make up for it.

    In any party there are very few people who enter with the set of skills we expect; intelligence, savvy, incredible workrate, charming personality, a face for television, and a large support base (farmers, business journalists). Ardern’s equivalent in National can’t go on the radio without stuffing up her highly scripted lines, and looks like a stern grandmother – which doesn’t work when she’s trying to feign compassion. What do parties do? They work around it and do the best with the people they have.

    Comment by Moses — August 31, 2015 @ 10:11 am

  6. I am not so much skeptical as cynical these days. Not wrong about the ugly gender attacks on Jacinda and isnt it the perfect time for that as another beerguzzling rugby fuelled political smoke and mirrors circus begins, but then again as we know, that can go both ways..
    Thatcher had bigger cahones than everyone in her cabinet, but was so testosteroned in the ‘end’ she didn’t see ‘it’ coming.. Enjoyed Pearl’s spirited article. Has already brought out the mysoginists and even a few misandrists ..

    If I was a pundit who has hat tipped Bennett as Keys’s successor though I might be gritting my teeth and wishing I hadn’t..Within Pearl’s article is at least one reason..
    Can think of quite a few others without too much effort and I am not even a pundit… more an intuit..

    The only thing eluding me, is what of the many things he is pushing, that will be Key’s ‘poll-tax’, and the moment open season declared on Paula?

    Comment by blondewithiqsmediabytes — August 31, 2015 @ 10:21 am

  7. I am not even a pundit… more an intuit..
    That reminds me, these little guys who were offending visiting Canadians a while back are still around. Perhaps they should be renamed Pacall Pundits. It’d certainly overcome any reservations I might have about biting their heads off.

    Comment by Joe W — August 31, 2015 @ 11:35 am

  8. @Joe W

    On a related note, did you know that Jelly Babies were originally sold under the name “Unwanted Babies”?

    Comment by Phil — August 31, 2015 @ 12:09 pm

  9. @Phil

    “Unclaimed babies”

    Comment by Gregor W — August 31, 2015 @ 1:46 pm

  10. This is good news for her and also for National, I think, because Ardern’s positive qualities are mostly qualities that Andrew Little does not have.

    I don’t follow your reasoning here, the rise of Ardern would be of more concern to the Nats than anyone else (apart from Andrew little). The strengths of Ardern are greater than Little’s and the weaknesses she has be ascribed with are lesser versions of the same weaknesses Little has. Little has done extremely poorly in New Plymouth and has not been successful with many policy initiatives. The only strength Little holds is the union vote and that makes him the perfect leader for the opposition as far as John Key is concerned.

    Comment by unaha-closp — August 31, 2015 @ 2:29 pm

  11. @unanha, I think the point is that if Ardern is seen as potentially better leader than the Little, it just brings the whole leadership problem back to Labour again.

    Comment by David — August 31, 2015 @ 2:55 pm

  12. On the adoption bill, those interested could read what Adoption Action said on it at

    “While the Ardern Bill serves a useful purpose by highlighting some of the deficiencies of current adoption law it does not reform either the Adoption Act or the Care of Children Act. Parliament does not have the power to require the Minister of Justice to give priority to adoption reform and the Law Commission cannot be required by the Minister to act on the direction of the Minister. Furthermore the Law Commission advises on policy matters and may lack the resources and expertise to draft complex new adoption laws. Moreover the Ardern Bill would delay any reform to adoption law for at least another two years.”

    Also what Kevin Hague said at

    ““But your Bill and Jacinda’s are very similar. Why are you voting against hers?” To understand that you need to look at the Bills – they’re not similar at all. Jacinda’s Bill does not change adoption law in any way. While my Bill is a substantive reform of adoption and surrogacy law, Jacinda’s instead gets the Minister of Justice to ask the Law Commission to update the advice they have already given on adoption reform and turn that into a bill. With the best will in the world, that process will take at least two or three years to arrive at the point we have already reached, and will use valuable Law Commission money and time to bring us to where we already stand! Even then the notional Bill would require a well-disposed government to do something with it. Well if we had one of those, it would pick up my Bill and advance it as a Government one. And hers doesn’t deal with surrogacy.

    Labour withdrew from the cross-Party process on adoption in order to advance Jacinda’s approach – a choice of unilateralism over multilateralism. In my opinion it is a history of unilateralism from successive governments that has led to the situation we have now, where everyone agrees the existing law is obsolete and harmful, but nobody has done anything about it. I told Jacinda at the time, and then said publicly, repeatedly, that we opposed her move, because what we really need is an approach that will actually takes us forward, not a bill that won’t pass and is instead a distraction from the goal of having adoption law that actually works for families. It should be no surprise to anyone that our position hasn’t changed. Supporting Jacinda’s Bill would undermine the cross-Party work we have been doing for the last 3 years.”

    Comment by dpf — August 31, 2015 @ 2:58 pm

  13. @Danyl “Ardern seems likely to be a significant presence in NZ politics. This is good news for her and also for National, I think, because Ardern’s positive qualities are mostly qualities that Andrew Little does not have.”

    Only good for National if Labour can’t manage to have a leadership team composed of people with complimentary qualities, and instead eats itself in a frenzy of fratricidal competition.

    Hmm….you might be on to something. But, let’s hope not.

    Comment by RJL — August 31, 2015 @ 3:43 pm

  14. Personally, I can’t see much significant difference between Little or Ardern’s ‘qualities’. I got the impression that Ardern was in the Grant camp during the leadership contest, and that she isn’t seen much with Little, but individually or collectively, neither of them has radiated much significant ‘political’ charisma.

    Comment by Lee Clark — August 31, 2015 @ 4:24 pm

  15. Mike Williams reported on Radio NZ today that Adern had worked in Tnoy Blair’s office.

    Comment by Andrew R — August 31, 2015 @ 5:57 pm

  16. Adern managed to beat Twyford for selection in Auckland Central in 2011, no mean feat. She is a lot tougher than people seem to think.

    Comment by RHT — August 31, 2015 @ 6:43 pm

  17. I find the whole thing tiresome to be honest. It’s marginalia stuff. If we have to hair split over whether she is good or she isn’t, it says to me she’s not good enough and worse, that Labour will let Key have a fourth term – if this is the best there is, if it’s this fine a distinction. Labour will win when (a) Key is retired and the successors look as unappealing and mediocre as Labour’s leaders have or (b) the economy has totally tanked, like, more than GFC because they still won in the middle of that or (c) it has some compelling leader and policies and more likely all 3. (I didn’t put a (d) Key/Nats accumulating some extraordinary corrupt bad news stories, because they have and it hasn’t hurt them so far but maybe that will creep up on them too, maybe not) Of these I look at (c) and worry the most. I mean you tell me, Kirk vs Marshall, Lange vs Muldoon, Clark vs Shipley … in each case victory went to the most capable and compelling leader. Sure, events (economy etc) helped, but it’s hard to win without the right leader (I think Cunliffe could have lost in 72, 84 and 99 lol) and nobody in Labour has that feel about them.

    Comment by Joe-90 — August 31, 2015 @ 9:12 pm

  18. Yup. In a nutshell, Joe.

    Comment by Lee Clark — August 31, 2015 @ 9:35 pm

  19. Right, in terms of Ardern’s performance in Auckland Central (Party Vote and Candidate Vote) which received some attention in the previous thread:

    Party Vote: Labour certainly did relatively poorly in AC in 2011 under Ardern’s watch (down 9.5 points compared to a 6.5 point fall nationwide). But in 2014 I’d say the Party performed pretty much as expected in AC given the boundary changes (ie the swing against Labour in AC was roughly the same size as nationally).

    Candidate Vote: In stark contrast to Labour’s Party Vote in AC, Ardern herself actually performed quite well in 2011, raising Labour’s Candidate Vote by 4.7 points (thereby returning to the sort of % Tizard had received in both 2002 and 2005). The reason Tizard was able to command reasonable size majorities in AC during these years on (like Ardern in 2011 and 2014) just 43 / 44% of the vote was = the Candidate Vote was highly fragmented with National’s Pansy Wong receiving just 26-33% in 02 and 05.
    Significant numbers of Greens (and more than a few Labour voters) were casting their Candidate Vote for Nandor Tanczos.
    Ardern managed to attract 13% more support from Green Party Voters and doubled support from Nat Party Voters (from 3 to 6%).

    In 2014, she also did a little better than you would expect given the boundary changes (mainly by attracting a slightly greater % of Green and NZF supporters). Having said that, if you compare her performance with other Labour candidates specifically in seats with similar proportions of Left/Right Party Vote, Jacinda doesn’t particularly stand out.

    Comment by swordfish — August 31, 2015 @ 10:31 pm

  20. Perhaps not so much a forest but more of a thicket?

    Comment by Lee Clark — September 1, 2015 @ 6:45 am

  21. Lee @20. Spinney? Covert?

    Comment by Grant — September 1, 2015 @ 10:27 am

  22. > I am ever mindful that I thought David Cunliffe would work out brilliantly, so I am open to persuasion.

    You’ll never be a politician, admitting mistakes like that! But as an analyst/commentator, this is the right attitude.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — September 3, 2015 @ 3:45 pm

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