Long Live The Sun Queen!

By   /   December 19, 2017  /   16 Comments

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I have participated in, and written about, politics for close to 40 years, but in all that time I can honestly say I have never witnessed anything like Jacinda Ardern’s first media conference as Labour Leader.

WHEN 2017 BEGAN I wasn’t feeling all that hopeful about how it would look as it ended. Shortly after New Year’s Day, I wrote:

“The political consensus, at the beginning of 2017 – election year – is that the National-led Government will hold on to power. Not in its own right, as might have happened had John Key led them into battle, but with sufficient parliamentary support to govern comfortably. The identity and character of National’s support will likely prove the most intriguing electoral story of the year. The most significant political event of 2017, however, could well be the collapse of the Labour Party and the emergence of the Greens as New Zealand’s leading party of the centre-left.”

And if Andrew Little, alarmed at the sudden surge in support for the Greens, had not stepped aside in favour of Jacinda Ardern, then my gloomy prediction might very well have come true. Because, as we all know, that Green surge had come at Labour’s expense, driving the party’s poll numbers down towards politically unsustainable levels.

It is, therefore, arguable that the Labour-NZF-Green Government presiding over New Zealand as 2017 draws to a close owes its existence to the moral courage and simple decency of Andrew Little. Certainly, the Labour Party owes him a huge debt of gratitude. He was willing to do – unbidden – what, left to their own devices, his indefatigably self-interested caucus colleagues would never have had the gumption to force upon him.

There’s no disguising the fact, however, that Little’s decision to step down in favour of Ardern was a huge gamble. Neither he, nor his colleagues, nor the news media, were at all sure whether the MP for Mt Albert had what it took to reanimate Labour’s 2017 campaign.

Until, that is, she strode out of the Labour Caucus and into her first media conference – and opened her mouth.

I have participated in, and written about, politics for close to 40 years, but in all that time I can honestly say I have never witnessed anything like Jacinda Ardern’s first media conference as Labour Leader.

When words fail you, the best place to look for someone else’s is often in the works of William Shakespeare. Watching Ardern’s extraordinary political talent blaze forth so unexpectedly, I was reminded of the lines spoken by Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part One, where he explains his reasons for keeping his true nature hidden until exactly the right moment:

I know you all, and will awhile uphold

The unyoked humor of your idleness.

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,

Who doth permit the base contagious clouds

To smother up his beauty from the world,

That, when he please again to be himself,

Being wanted, he may be more wondered at

By breaking through the foul and ugly mist

Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.

No one can dispute that Ardern’s sunny ways dispelled the “foul and ugly mist” in which Labour had been slowly expiring. Beneath the television lights, those “base contagious clouds” which, in the persons of Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little had been smothering Labour’s hopes, were dispelled by the glorious summer of this daughter of Morrinsville. “Jacindamania” was upon us.

And yet, for all her “relentless positivity”, Ardern’s dramatic emergence foreshadowed only negative consequences for the Green Co-Leader, Metiria Turei, and her party. While Little’s grey presence cast a pall over Labour’s campaign prospects, Turei’s reckless challenge to the status quo – “I committed welfare fraud to feed my baby!” – had set progressive hearts a-flutter. Before Jacinda’s blazing sunshine overwhelmed it entirely, Turei’s defiant policy candle had sent out rays of hope into the neoliberal gloom. So transfixed were progressives by the bells and whistles of the passing “Jacinda” juggernaut, however, that only a few took note of the number of radical Green policies left crushed and broken beneath its wheels.

And, it wasn’t only the progressive Left that found itself transfixed by the Jacinda spectacle. For most of the year NZ First had been struggling to come up with a plan to moderate the policies of its most likely coalition partner – the National Party. Suddenly, Labour was back in the game. Was it possible that Jacinda also knew “The Hallelujah Song” of political transformation and economic emancipation? Would she be willing to sing it with him? Peters didn’t know, but for the first time in a long time, it made sense to listen.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Thanks to her fairy NZ First godmother, Jacinderella did get to go to the ball. And, much to the fury of the National Party’s ugly sisters, it was onto her foot that Prince Winston slid the glass slipper of power.

So, can we say that, in spite of all those New Year forebodings, 2017 has had a happy ending? New Zealand has a progressive government, of sorts, and its young prime minister has already set about enchanting the world. What’s not to be hopeful about?

Strangely, I keep coming back to that Shakespearian quote: the one about Prince Hal imitating the sun. Because, of course, Prince Hal eventually becomes King Henry V. It is then that, as promised, he emerges from the “base contagious clouds” of his disreputable friends and hangers-on to claim his birthright – the Crown of England.

Aye, and there’s the rub. Power is transformative – it changes all who wield it. Henry V – Prince Hal as was – ruthlessly dismisses his former companions: breaking all former bonds, and forgetting all previous promises. With a kingdom to govern, his need is now for new friends, new advisors, new policies.

What that means, in terms of the true nature of the Labour-NZF-Green Government and its leader is, alas, only now becoming clear. New Zealanders may revel in the warm glow of their Sun Queen, but, having placed her on the throne, they must now content themselves with the role of mere spectators of her royal progress.


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  1. WILD KATIPO says:

    Hang in there , Mr Trotter, – both you and Mr Bradbury have written words of caution and many have commented on incrementalism and their frustrations with it ,…

    Valid enough I guess , but sooner or later , it had to get down to this : where the rubber hits the road and where Labour has to reach crunch point , – that of owning that they were the original party that unleashed neo liberalism on us. And it is up to them to lead us out of it. Starting with this government , or else they will surely be a one term item.

    And in our eagerness to see the executioner lead out the neo liberal monster to the gallows for final expulsion from our fair land , we are quick to reach for the critical button.

    Cliched as it is to say , we must be patient as this coalition has only just started. It took 33 of careful frame building to entrench neo liberalism , it wont be torn down in 3 weeks.

    In saying that , however,… it is no time to let them off the hook.

    And ,… possibly that is in their best interests for us to keep the pressure on, – because when Jeremy Corbyn wins,… we here in New Zealand will have NO EXCUSE whatsoever anymore.

  2. garibaldi says:

    “NZ has a progressive government ,of sorts”. No it doesn’t. It is ,as we feared, National lite.

    • Strypey says:

      It’s far, *far* to early to be passing judgments like this. A Labour government’s transformative credentials (or lack there-of) cannot be judged by reading the tea leaves of its election policy, which is necessarily watered down because of their bizarre belief that elections are won by appealing to the self-interested swing voters in the mythical “centre”. We will see how transformative it truly is (or isn’t) in how it responds to popular campaigns against the fossil fuel industry and the TPP, or gold mining in the conservation estate. Or how it responds to popular campaigns in favour of cannabis legalization, or deep and lasting social welfare reform.

      National ignores such campaigns, no matter how much public support they get. A National-lite Labour pays them lip service, then does nothing to support them. A transformative government sees such popular campaigns as an essential part of the democratic process, and turns their demands into legislation. It will take at least a year or two, and some major public activism, to reveal what kind of government Jacinda is leading.

  3. Siobhan says:

    It would seem we are in for another weird left wing disconnect like we had with the Lange/Awesome, Roger/Bad show. Though I guess in the case its more Adern/Awesome, Robertson/Quite disappointing.
    (Though, given he is doing exactly what he, and for that matter, the Party signaled, its ridiculous to be in any way disappointed)

  4. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    It is hard to get a reading on the Progressometer of this government but there are sufficient attachments to cause serious concern.

    A period of working for neo-liberal Tony Bleah.

    An admirer and student of Helen Clarke who reigned over nine horrible years of neo-liberal furtherance.

    The sudden backdown over tax reform (and the desperately needed Capital Gains Tax).

    The appointment of chief Grinch and parsimony-ist Mike “Robber” Cullen as chair of the don’t-rock-the-boat-too-much tax investigation.

    The presence of Grant “you don’t like me because I’m gay, not because I’m a neo-liberal incompetent and I can prove it” Robertson in the finance seat and his “fiscal responsibility” claptrap.

    And mostly the lack of any action on the critical issues such as the correcting of benefit levels and the clearing out of neo-liberal practices from WINZ.

    Your Sun Queen, M Trottoir, is seriously in danger of being more red dwarf than blazing G2 star.

    And yes, they’ve only been in power for five minutes but as Dr Liz Gordon asks in her excellent article on women’s equality, how long do we have to wait? When is it ever time?

    Never ever hold your breath…

  5. let me be frank says:

    perhaps the phrase ‘Jacindamania’ has proved prophetic…..

    however, as flawed as this new administration is appearing to evolve there can be no doubt it remains infinitely superior to the alternative…an exposed disaster that still managed as good as 45% support….not so much a world of sunshine, rather one of black and white.

  6. Mike the Lefty says:

    When she was a fairly new and relatively unknown MP, I remember that a journalist (whose name I can’t recall) wrote an article predicting that Jacinda had the potential to go far in NZ politics and was a bright spark for the political left.
    Fairly accurate wouldn’t you say?
    I will try to find out when the story was written, where and by who.

    • Sam Sam says:

      I remember just before getting banned from the standard (lower case) back in January that Jacinda would be PM. Like moments before I got banned I layed it all out in open mike. I even told Weka she was a moron for questioning me. And I gave them all a serve for being idiots.

    • Sam Sam says:

      It was so obvious even that far back. Lelz.

  7. Marc says:

    “New Zealanders may revel in the warm glow of their Sun Queen, but, having placed her on the throne, they must now content themselves with the role of mere spectators of her royal progress.”

    That sounds well put.

    But that is only true, because of so many having become ‘Sleepy Hobbits’, nothing more or less.

    There is nowhere any desire for real change, substantial change that is, except amongst a few activists, who will likely be let down yet again, by another Labour led government, that is more concerned with the well being of the middle class, the rest being mere alms giving to the poor, enabled through some laws based on humble bits of policy.

    New Zealanders love their cars, mostly petrol and diesel powered, and continue driving everywhere, polluting the air, while we suffer heat and drought due to climate change. Try impose additional taxes and levies, the outcry will be great, wait and see it. Consumerism rules, individualism rules, selfishness rules, pollution is unabated, plundering of resources also.

    Immigration is no longer talked about like being cut back, and so many election campaign promises are no longer uttered. Mediocrity is everywhere.

    Talk about madness, it is all around us.

  8. Kat says:

    Well, I will stick my neck out and say it here and now, Jacinda Ardern will become in time just as much a respected house hold name as Michael Savage.

    We are a very fortunate country and the 40 odd % will soon come around (well maybe not all of them).

  9. Jack says:

    The B***h is back and there’s nothing in the stockings of spoiled little tory brats for Christmas. You could say I’m in heaven.

  10. The Masked Moa says:

    Ardern and Labour are frauds pure and simple she smiled and lied her way into power on the medicinal cannabis issue and has delivered only for the pharmaceutical companies. Unfortunately, Gareth Morgan was right to state that all that Labour offers is lipstick on a pig and they go around so in awe of their beautiful pig walking on its 2 hind legs and exclaim how beautiful it is it no longer walks on its 4 trotters. How progressive they exclaim! Meanwhile Orwell and Helen Kelly are turning in their graves.

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