Labour is heading for an election defeat in 2023 and it will only have itself to blame.

'Regardless, if Ardern continues with the incrementalist approach, her administration, which leverages international recognition for domestic legitimacy, may come to represent yet another failure of the globe’s vaunted new breed of liberal democrats. Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron each, like Ardern, spoke the language of “hope” and “change”. Yet, ultimately, all further entrenched a poisonous status quo.' Glen Johnson, Al Jazeera, October 2020

WITH OR WITHOUT Jacinda Ardern as its leader, Labour faces an uphill battle to retain office next year. The opinion polls have consistently indicated that a National-ACT government is on the cards and while its lead remains small it's likely to widen as economic conditions worsen for many more people. We are living in desperate times.

In 2020 Labour romped to an easy election victory on the back of the coronavirus pandemic but, in 2023, its track record and its policies will be scrutinised and dissected in a way they weren't in 2020. Having raised public expectations in 2017 with her sweeping rhetoric about tackling poverty and climate change, Ardern is likely to end up with a 'D' on her election report card. 

Her most fanatical supporters - who are driven largely by their dislike for the National Party - will continue to support her regardless. They have demonstrated that they aren't so much interested about the state of the clubhouse but rather who occupies it. But, as Bryce Edwards has commented, other Ardern loyalists - he mentions commentators Morgan Godfery and Shane Te Pou - have become more ambivalent about her leadership.

For those us who weren't swept away by 'Jacindamania' in 2017, the liberal disillusionment with Ardern is predictable. It betrays not only a failure to recognise that the Labour Party is beyond rescue as a vehicle for progressive policies but it also highlights the failure to accept that Jacinda Ardern has never been more than a thoroughly centrist politician. She has been a career politician completely engulfed in the mindset of the status quo, doing everything possible not to disturb it. She is no Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the US socialist congresswoman that some Labour supporters initially likened her to.

But there's been zero talk from Ardern about socialism but plenty of ultimately meaningless talk about 'kindness'. It's the label she has built her international reputation on. But, in reality, her mindset has ossified, firmly located in a political and economic status quo that she encouraged an electorate to believe that she would, at least, shake up. Now, as Bryce Edwards notes, Ardern and Labour look like they have run out of steam and run out of ideas.  Labour's so-called 'realism' and 'pragmatism' has proven to be a political dead end.

Unfortunately for Ardern, she is no longer the new political leader on the block and, if she is to lead Labour into next year's election campaign, she will be forced to defend her government's track record. But her government has overseen a period where the wealthy elite have done ever better while the broad mass of people have suffered poverty, low incomes, an inability to access affordable housing, an inability to access basic welfare and health services. It stands in stark contrast to Jacinda Ardern's promise of transformation and renewal in 2017. 

Labour supporters will inevitably be left insisting that Labour represents better value than a National government. But lesser evil politics is largely the politics of people who have never actually had to experience the 'rigours' of neoliberalism. The argument that Labour represents the 'lesser evil' will not convince the over 600,000 folk who no longer vote nor the folk lining up at the foodbanks or sleeping on couches in lieu of having somewhere to live. They will rightly judge this Labour Government to have been a failure. It had the historic opportunity to be truly transformatory but has lacked either the political vison or the political will to be such a government. 


  1. Concur. Caveat: I do worry about the hell bent blitzkrieg swing away from democracy, in common with many nations.

  2. Concur, Caveat: I still worry about an absolute-majority government’s blitzkrieg speed away from democracy and the likelihood of a 16 year voting age.


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