After some five years in office the cracks have started to appear in Jacinda Ardern's carefully marketed image. Is she and Labour heading for election defeat next year?

IN 2017 Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein said in an interview with a Dutch television channel that people had to stop treating centrist politicians as if they were progressive saviours. She was specifically referring to her own Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, hailed in much of the mainstream media as 'the great liberal hope'.

Said Klein : '"My Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, gets treated like he's the messiah because he's not Donald Trump and because he wears nice socks. I think he's getting a free ride- that's what concerns me the most. There's a huge hunger for hope out there and sometimes we will take whatever we can get. But its not helpful to us that Trudeau gets treated as something he is not....'

She went on to say that Trudeau got treated 'as a rock star everywhere he goes and people want selfies. You have to stop it.' 

Klein's frustration was clearly evident because, unlike his largely uncritical liberal followers, she understood what Trudeau was really all about. While his followers trumpeted that he represented a 'new kind of politics' Klein understood that his so-called 'new politics' was a lot like the old politics. 

She was right. Justin Trudeau, voted into office in 2015 promising real change, has proven to be yet another centrist politician, disinclined to challenge the status quo. 

There are similarities between the political leadership of Justin Trudeau and Jacinda Ardern. She too was elected to office promising 'transformation' and in Ardern's case, she specifically targeted child poverty (shorthand for poverty in general) and climate change as the issues that she wanted to specifically tackle. But confronting such fundamental issues requires the kind of radical change that Jacinda Ardern has always shrank from throughout her political career. Her Labour Government has only tinkered at the edges and achieved little.

But, like Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern has been able to pose on the international stage as a left wing progressive while behaving conservatively at home. In 2018 the New York Times commented that Jacinda Ardern's 'progressive politics' had made her a 'international sensation'. Similarly, after Labour's election victory in 2020, the conservative Financial Times commented that Ardern's success was a victory for 'compassionate competence' and subsequently went on to say that Ardern led New Zealand's 'most left wing government in decades.' Meanwhile the liberal Guardian, also in 2020, declared that Ardern represented a 'new kind of soft power'.

It hasn't been all plain sailing for Jacinda Ardern though. There has been the  occasional story in the mainstream media questioning Ardern's progressive credentials. Shortly after the 2020 election, for example, the BBC ran a story headlined 'NZ Election : The people left behind in Ardern's 'kind' New Zealand'.

Generally though Ardern has been able  to leverage her 'progressive' international status to enhance her domestic reputation. However in these post-pandemic times the focus has shifted more forcibly to the Labour Government's domestic policies and they been found to be wanting. Brand Ardern has become to crack and faces the very real prospect of being left up on the shelf by voters next year.

This week the New York Times published a critical commentary on Jacinda Ardern under the headline 'Abroad, Jacinda Ardern Is a Star. At Home, She's Losing Her Shine..' Written by Wellington-based Peter McKenzie it observes that New Zealanders have 'growing doubts' about Ardern's ability to deliver 'meaningful change she promised on systemic problems'. Writes McKenzie:

'The country has also struggled with persistent child poverty, which causes rates of rheumatic fever and lung diseases which are surprisingly high for a developed country.

'In 2017, Ardern stated that reducing child poverty was a key goal. Currently, 13.6 per cent of New Zealand children live in poverty, a decrease from 16.5 per cent in 2018, but more than the government’s target of 10.5 per cent.

'And despite Ms. Ardern’s promise to treat climate change as the “nuclear-free moment” of her generation, emissions have increased 2.2% since 2018.'

It could well be said that Ardern has been hoisted by her own petard. Her attempt to present herself as a progressive politician of change has only helped to set the stage for her potential undoing. The stubbornly centrist policies pursued by her Government that have only further entrenched the status quo have made her carefully managed progressive identity seem increasingly hollow, even disingenuous.

When the people that do continue to vote head to the polls next November, a central question will be whether Jacinda Ardern's brand has faded to the extent that the Labour Party's vision for New Zealand will be seen as simply unbelievable. Under her Labour Government there has been an unprecedented transfer of wealth to the rich which, as commentator Bryce Edwards has observed, has led to the 'sacrifice of the poor'. If Jacinda Ardern plans to campaign as the 'people's champion' next year she should be prepared for the inevitable fierce criticism that will come her way. 

New Zealanders may well decide that Ardern's time is up and that its time to give 'the other lot' a go. Protestations that Labour represents the 'lesser evil' will hold little sway because, as has often been observed, New Zealanders tend to vote a political party out of office rather than vote a new party into power. With the National Party the only 'alternative' on offer, the real victor will be the interests of the political and economic status quo. Again.


  1. first term she won a 35%, aided in part by the collapse of the Green Vote following Materia Turei's unapologetic admission of benefit fraud late in the piece. The so called "Youth Quake" never materialized. Prior to that she'd contested Auckland Central and lost twice, before being moved to Mt Albert, a seat that has always been Labour. Her second term popularity was exclusively due to a random act of God, reminiscent of Bob Parker's second term. These are hardly the hallmarks of a wildly popular leader.

  2. Prior to 2017, Ardern’s Marxist ideology was somewhat hidden as was certainly the ethnocentric ideology but the main stream media again failed to dig deep into the persuasions of Ardern, hence New Zealanders were failed by the “voice of the people” once more.

  3. Something that seems to always be missed is that working class people are already doing it hard and are looking down the barrel of things getting considerably harder.

    While the beltway and other members of comfortably off might be feeling some kind of reflected glow from a prime minister ''shining'' in the US and enjoying a kind of stardom on the American talk-show circuit, etc., This spectacle just adds insult to injury to those who are struggling and afraid for their survival as things get even tougher. It is not pride but disgust that is engendered.

    Anyone imagining that a having a leader AWOL playing a ''star'' while hardship bites and crisis brews at home is an asset to be proud of, has clearly never faced a crisis within hardship.

    Ardern will soon face her own 'Marie Antoinette' moment.

    1. Given the current paranoia surrounding the liberal-class horror at its unpopularity, now evident in its willingness to censor to maintain its illusions, (including of the working class actually buying into it's 'kindness'), I feel the need to be clarify the obvious fact that the ''Antoinette moment'' referred to above, was referring to the ballot box.


Comments are moderated.