Photo by John Miller
THAT JACINDA ARDERN has the “Magic” is not now in dispute. Labour’s campaign launch proved it many times over. Not only in terms of the 200m-long queue stretching back from the Auckland Town Hall doors. Not only because the whole event went off without a hitch. Not only because Jacinda’s speech was an absolute blinder. The Magic resides in the fact that everyone involved in the launch: the organisers, the media, the audience itself; had turned up anticipating a triumph.
The mantle of success has already been draped over Jacinda’s shoulders. Victory advances towards her with arms outstretched. Her followers are convinced they know how this year’s election is going to end. She has filled them to the brim with hope. That’s the Magic – that’s the trick.
The enormous significance of political magic is made clear principally by its absence. None of Jacinda’s four male predecessors had it. Contact lenses and a new haircut couldn’t make it appear. Speechwriters working in shifts couldn’t summon it. Focus groups couldn’t even tell the party where to look for it. But no Labour member; no Labour voter; had the slightest difficulty understanding that the Magic was passing them by.
Because, without the Magic, the party’s leaders were just so many talking heads; and its policies just so many (so many!) words on paper. They could be wheeled out in front of the public, but the public couldn’t be persuaded to notice them. Promises to do good things could be announced, re-announced, and then announced all over again – and, still, nobody believed them. Absent the Magic, why should they? The party was never going to be in a position to make them happen.
But, oh, what a difference, when the Magic finally appears! First, there’s the shock of recognition. In Jacinda’s case, that came just a few seconds into her first media conference as Leader. No one had addressed the Press Gallery with such effortless authority since the departure of Helen Clark in 2008. The journalists all thought they knew Jacinda Ardern, but they were wrong. The Jacinda Ardern with power was a very different person from the Jacinda Ardern without it. That mysterious and indefinable “gift of grace” – kharisma in Ancient Greek – had taken up residence in Jacinda Ardern, and she was changed.
No call now for tedious recitations of party policy. When the Magic is with you people don’t want to know the details of any particular reform, they want to know its purpose. And that’s what this sudden infusion of charisma has done for Jacinda. It has enabled her to communicate the passion and the urgency of her intentions with striking clarity – as when she declared Climate Change to be her generation’s “nuclear-free moment”.
Page after page of earnest policy proposals could never have achieved the political impact of that single sentence. Like David Lange’s in/famous quip that “you can’t run a country like a Polish shipyard”, Jacinda’s “my generation’s nuclear-free moment” political marker discloses a potent combination of emotion and aspiration. Not the least of which is her clear determination to not only participate in history, but to shape it.