Mirages & politicians

The news of the week in New Zealand has to be Jacinda Ardern’s resignation. The above photo is as close as we have come to our, shortly to be ex-, Prime Minister. She had morning tea with a friend near us at Provisions Cafe in Arrowtown last May.

New Zealand was shocked by Jacinda’s resignation, at least that’s what the media commentary says. Immediately after hearing the announcement, I wondered why everyone was acting so surprised. It’s been a tough two terms of government – few New Zealand (or any international) leaders have had to weather a terrorist attack (Christchurch mosque massacre), a natural hazard disaster killing nationals and internationals (White Island eruption), a global pandemic and ensuing global trade and economic disruptions, and overarching existential threat (climate change) in 6 years. It’s no surprise Jacinda has had enough and, if she has, it makes sense to step down sufficiently prior to an election to allow a new leader to find their feet and lead a coherent campaign.

The reactions to Jacinda’s resignation have been as polarised as reactions to her/the Labour government’s decisions. How does one separate those two things – when is a decision that of the Prime Minister, as opposed to that of the team that is the Cabinet, or the team that is their party? In a few cases ownership of decisions is clear e.g. decisions about lockdowns specifically sat with the Prime Minister. However, mostly, political decisions are not about an individual’s personal goals, but about a complex mix of values, information, and alliances. Trump might be an exception to that rule, but let’s not go there.

Some people are devastated by Jacinda leaving and other people are thankful for her departure. Where do I sit in this mix? First, I think that if Jacinda wants some other sort of life than leading the country, I wish her well in it. I think it is hard to argue that she has given anything other than her utmost, whether you like what she has done, or not. Nearly 6 years of a person’s life, especially their relatively young life, is enough to give to a country.

I do not currently support the general thrust of the Labour Party in some important regards, so am happy for a change of leadership as a scenario in which the Party might rethink its trajectory. My core concerns are:

– Labour has and continues to push through far too many major reforms simultaneously, which cannot be done well in the proposed timeframes. They appear to be rushing to complete reforms prior to the election, which will ensure they are done poorly. We are reforming our health system, three waters, our environmental protection legislation, our science system, our polytechnics, local government (I have probably missed a few). From conversations with people in these sectors, including senior bureaucrats, it is clear that reforms are being done poorly and at huge cost to already stressed people within the systems. More importantly, there is no clarity that what ensues will be better – when something isn’t working properly, that doesn’t mean replacing it will deliver a better system. The only surety is a different system. Temporary derailment of Labour will, hopefully, make it less likely they will push through existing reforms at pace or come up with new reforms to squeeze in before the election.

– I do not support the Labour Party’s economic growth policy. Perpetual economic growth is a myth. However, there is no reason that a change of Labour leadership will change their stance on growth.

I also have some dilemmas with regard to Jacinda. People have asked me questions I can’t answer. Here’s one … I have a friend who is adamant that Jacinda is evil. One reason given for calling her ‘evil’ is that the Labour government continued with vaccine mandates and COVID quarantines for returnees from offshore for months after the Ministry of Health advised that mandates and quarantines were no longer necessary. Vaccine mandates have, without doubt, harmed people. I know people who have had their lives derailed as a result. We know that people suffered significantly from not being able to return to New Zealand, because the quarantines required quotas which kept some people offshore for months or years. So, if you continue actions you know are harming people, against all advice, is that evil? I don’t know … the only thing I am sure of here is that I don’t know the answer for sure.

Can I counter the claim that Jacinda is evil by saying I think she is genuine in what she does? She intends to do good, even if sometimes she does not (could that go for all of us?). However, how do I know she is genuine? I get that impression from her media presence, but why would I believe what the media tells me? It isn’t like I can get a direct impression of Jacinda myself to check what I am told. The closest I have to a direct impression is a third party description from someone who has worked closely with Jacinda and that person has found her to be genuine, hard working and well meaning. That’s not very close though, is it? I find myself with a very wobbly internal feeling, when I am questioning whether I believe that our leader is genuine, and have no way of assessing my belief.

I could return to the Mosque Massacre, when Jacinda wore a headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims and was internationally praised for doing so. Wasn’t that genuine, and good? Actually, it infuriated me. It infuriated me that a woman had to wear what I regard as a symbol of oppression (just like I regard high heels as a symbol of oppression) to physically demonstrate her ‘They Are Us’ statement. I remain undecided as to whether it was a good thing, or a not-good thing.

I will hang onto Jacinda’s speech yesterday as evidence of her being genuine. Her voice was cracking as she announced she was stepping down. Yes, she could have been ‘putting that on’, but would most leaders want to be seen to cry when they resign? Is that going to add to their popularity stakes as they move on to whatever their next role might be? I can already hear the nay-sayers telling me this is just another form of superb manipulation. It may be that you can never appear genuine to all people, any more than you can be all things.

Published by janecshearer

I'm a self-employed life enthusiast living in Gibbston, New Zealand

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