There has been a spate of commentary by male media people recently going on and on about how Jacinda needs to become a “tougher” Prime Minister. The two New Zealand role models often cited as ‘tough’ are Robert Muldoon and Helen Clark.
The lack of toughness apparently stems from her reluctance to sack colleagues in a public display of debauchery, a la House of Cards. According to Duncan Garner, New Zealanders like ‘strong leaders’, citing Muldoon as an example.
This I found very interesting. Muldoon was a dreadful bully and was hardly someone who would tolerate the more woman friendly, child-friendly era in which we now find ourselves. Is Duncan really suggesting we need a Muldoon-like personality strutting his way across the Prime Ministerial stage in the 21st century? I really cannot think of anything we need less. Are men changing quickly enough in the #MeToo era, I wonder?
Helen Clark was a more interesting figure. While I am sure she projected strength, she was not a particularly effective PM in making the kinds of reforms that were needed then and are needed now. Specifically, Clark made no attempt to unlock the effects of neo-liberal deregulation, and it has taken a whole decade more for some of those unequalising and punitive policies to begin to be unpicked.
What Helen Clark was strongest at was being a woman PM and keeping the job for nine years. But at the end, prison numbers were still going up, tertiary fees were still there, nothing had been done to reduce child poverty and the rich continued to get richer, wages remained low at the bottom and high at the top. That government just never got it together for its people.
It seems to be that Jacinda is Prime Minister in a period when ambitious programmes of change are underway. People are being listened to who have not had a voice for 30 years. Ideas that have been hidden deeply are emerging. The new regime is standing resolutely for change, even though they know the road is hard. Jacinda is an up-front leader of that change, and to me that is real strength.
There are different kinds of strength and that is the kind that is needed now, not a frowny sort of bullying approach that dares people to speak and be punished. We do not need Genghis Khan, thanks very much. Jacinda, your smile is powerful, your commitment is strong. Kia kaha, e wahine toa!
I was in Turanganui-a-kiwa (Gisborne) last week. I had to visit the Gisborne City Council in its lovely new premises. The first thing I saw was a big pile of fridge magnets (with little shopping list thingies attached – very nice) warning of the need to get to higher ground if an earthquake is long or severe. This is a very good warning. If (when) the massive Hikurangi trench ruptures on the East Coast, it is likely that a huge tsunami will arrive quite quickly. But what struck me most is that the beautiful new Council building, on whose table the fridgey things were displayed, is at the confluence of Gisborne’s two main rivers, and barely 100 metres from the sea, on low-lying land.
Let’s hope the building, which is long and low, also doubles as a boat for when the tsunami comes. Perhaps they should have called it Noah’s Ark? Either way it seems very odd to me that the Civil Defence HQ is right in the path of the city’s biggest threat.
I am off to the CPAG summit on Wednesday in Wellington. This one is about rethinking the welfare state, which is work that badly needs doing. This is also some vindication for the CPAG team who have been campaigning against benefit-led child poverty and tax inequalities for many years. Change is indeed in the air.
Dr Liz Gordon began her working life as a university lecturer at Massey and the Canterbury universities. She spent six years as an Alliance MP, before starting her own research company, Pukeko Research. Her work is in the fields of justice, law, education and sociology (poverty and inequality). She is the president of Pillars, a charity that works for the children of prisoners, a prison volunteer, and is on the board of several other organisations. Her mission is to see New Zealand freed from the shackles of neo-liberalism before she dies (hopefully well before!).