No Substance To Her Stardust: Has Jacinda Lost The Magic?

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HOW DID IT HAPPEN? Where did she go? The Jacinda Ardern who rocked our world? Where did she lose her sparkle and her stardust? What, or who, took from her the qualities that had so decisively interposed themselves between the centre-left and almost certain defeat?

It used to be said of Jacinda Ardern that if the Labour Party had nothing to say, then she was, indisputably, the best person to say it. And now, assuming the media reports of Sunday’s “All’s Well With The Coalition” exercise are accurate, that emphatically vague Jacinda is back. Poised, articulate, relaxed, witty: oh yes, she was all of those; but when her listeners attempted to recall the substance of her speech there was precious little for memory to work with. It was a tale told by a politician: full of smiles and good intentions; signifying … very little indeed.

Which leaves us to explain the political phenomenon that was “Jacindamania”. Because something happened that day back in August 2017, when Andrew Little stepped down and Jacinda Ardern stepped up. When she strode out to meet the assembled media and began speaking, dozens of jaws dropped open in wonder. It was a stunning performance, and when it was over there wasn’t a soul in the room who didn’t understand that the game had changed; changed utterly; and that an electoral phenomenon had been born.

And, perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, that was enough. After the palpable disappointments of Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little; under whose care the Labour Party appeared to have lost the will to live; Jacinda strobed youth and vitality and a boundless confidence in her party’s ability to “do this”. As to the precise nature of “this”: no one on the centre-left considered it prudent to enquire too closely. It was enough that it wasn’t “that” – the sordid residue of nine years of National Party neglect. A narrow majority of New Zealanders had had enough of “that” – to the point where even an undefined “this” sounded pretty good.

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But Jacinda possessed something else: something more than mere youth and vitality and confidence. She possessed that peculiar quality of presenting herself as a safe repository for people’s hopes and dreams. This, the Philosopher’s Stone of politics, allowed Jacinda to transmute the base metal of a Labour Party almost entirely bereft of ideas, into the pure gold of electoral appeal.

Thanks to Jacinda, Labour was able to bulk-up its Party Vote to the point where a three-party government became possible. The sheer elation of, if not victory, then, at least, of avoiding a catastrophic electoral humiliation, allowed Labour to conduct the negotiations with NZ First with a confidence that lasted just long enough to persuade Winston Peters that the promised “transformation” could be delivered. Jacinda had piled his plate high with policies fit for a queen-maker and bade him eat. It was an offer he could not refuse.

The great problem with magical feasts, of course, is that they are weightless and provide no sustenance. NZ First and the Greens may have believed they were being treated to the most splendid meal of their lives, but in the cold light of day, they were still hungry.

The brutal truth was that Labour’s leaders had no firm ideas about what they should do with the power that Jacinda’s electoral sorcery had placed in their hands. For the nine years National was in office they had been challenged repeatedly to identify the one or two policies they would wish to be remembered for. They couldn’t do it. Such energy as the Labour caucus possessed while in opposition was, for nearly a decade, devoted to the task of identifying an electable successor to Helen Clark.

In this bloody “Game of Thrones”, the question of what the victor should do when the power was finally placed in his or her hands was never adequately answered. The question of what he or she would not do, however, was very clearly answered. It was decided (with the Greens) that any future government of the centre-left would not stray too far from the fiscal parameters set by their National predecessors. Accompanying these “Budget Responsibility Rules” were a seemingly never-ending series of working-parties dedicated to coming-up with the policies Labour’s leaders lacked both the imagination and the courage to come up with themselves.

Leonard Cohen, in his poem “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot”, identifies the essential transience of transformative power:

Though laws were carved in marble

They could not shelter men

Though altars built in parliaments

They could not order men

Police arrested magic and magic went with them

For magic loves the hungry

But magic would not tarry

It moves from arm to arm

It would not stay with them

Magic is afoot

It cannot come to harm

It rests in an empty palm

It spawns in an empty mind

But magic is no instrument

Magic is the end

Use it or lose it, Cohen seems to be saying about the power to change this world we inhabit. Because, if you don’t, then somebody else will feel the weight of it on their palm; the strength of it in their arm; the fire of it in their mind. And the stardust that once was yours will lend substance to another’s determination to “do this”. Leaving you to “do that” in ways which the people who once marvelled at your magic will struggle to remember.

48 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe the Emperor never had any new clothes to begin with and only now is it obvious how naked, empty and bereft of ideas Labour really is? Example, with WWIII on the horizon and threats of nuclear war in Syria this governments response is to passively acquiesce and go along with it. Hope and Change? Nope a sociopathic fraud like Obama which opened the door for the masses to then crave a psychopath promising real change. Except this time instead of Obamas covert use of 4th and 5th generation small nukes on numerous middle eastern countries the USA is going to pull out the big nukes to flatten Syria and anybody else that gets in their way. The Ardern stardust will turn into radioactive fallout dust with liberal amounts for everybody to rejoice in with their share as it falls gently out of the sky.

    • Soymun doesn’t have any Stardust, never has.
      He does have (slightly) more substance.
      However, where National has it in spades over Labour is that it’s MPs are generally far more competent.

      • Little Hekia, the Mrs Crusher would absolutely break your heart if you had to introduce her as a safe pair of National Party hands. There educational policy and welfare policy that seeks to bend people around there will and plung the economy into low wage WINZ discipline will totally miss the high wage economy.

        • Let alone the appalling Tony Ryall policy rushed through urgency to stop carers suing the government over disability support payments.
          So Jay, no Soymun has no substance and no Brownlee, Nick Smith, Bennett etc etc, quite clearly are far more incompetent than Labour ministers. In fact I’d go as far to say they are buffoons.

      • you’re kidding!!!????? Name one? Steven Joyce ( incompetence personified) Bill English couldn’t produce a bonafide surplus in 9 years of trying (managed to rob a paltry one from the Christchurch rebuild fund)Crusher Collins ( the carnage of her Bail Laws is still with us)worst Police and Justice minister since Phil Goff, (and he destroyed our justice system with his changes to the criminal procedure act). Vile dishonest disgusting greedy people whose most significant and illustrative achievement was to give NZ the highest teenage suicide rate in the world!. Sums up the Natzis to a tee.

  2. How are you surprised Chris?
    Aside from being a relatively likeable personality, it was obvious to anyone with a open and intelligent mind that she never had anything else to offer.

    She has been weighed, she has been measured and she has been found wanting. Working in a fish and chip shop is hardly the credentials required to run a country.

    Andrew Little would have been a better choice than Adern to lead the country, but he has a personality that is toxic to the general public. This is the same reason that it is difficult to see National putting Collins in charge of the party. It is one thing to be competent, quite another to be electable.

    Furthermore, not only is Adern sadly lacking in almost all the characteristics of a leader, so too are her MPs.
    Curran, Mecka and Nash have been a disaster.
    Ignoring the fact that they seem to have come into power with precious few concrete policies, but they seem to lack the basic knowledge of how to make Government “run”.

    National likewise has a leadership problem, in that none of their MPs (including Soymun) have leadership qualities. Also, none of them are particularly likeable.
    However, National does have a reasonable number of competent MPs and do know how to “run” Government.

    • Little (and Shaw) presided over the decision to fiscally nueter any Labour led government so they could be seen as part of the neo-liberal status quo.

    • Competent MPs like who? ???
      So can’t remember the 2 MPs sacked by Mr Key in the first term, eh? Or Nick Smith, or Parata?

      John Key’s greatest shtick was he was a compulsive liar who charmed the third estate.

      Look to the Media’s reaction to this govt compared to the last. And I saw David Cunliffe speak and he was one of the most charismatic people I’ve heard and look how he was portrayed.

      • You are allowing fear and loathing for the Nats to cloud your objectivity.
        You may hate slippery John and his policies, but if you can claim that he wasn’t very competent the you’re delusional or a liar.
        Likewise, despite also having some incompetent MPs, the majority of them were competent if not spectacular.

        In contrast this current government is largely incompetent with the obvious exception of Winnie who is the most adept political operator we have ever had IMO with the possible exception of Lange.

    • It isn’t just the Democrats that are hollow.
      Obama is also.

      In terms of purely policies (not charisma or personality), I would rank him no better than Trump.

  3. For me, Jacinda never had any magic. At the time of her rise I regarded her as a mediocre player in a game dominated by utterly hopeless players.

    Stunning performances in front of crowds are all very well but stunning performances are not a replacement for sound policies, and sound policies is what Jacinda lacks.

    What may save Jacinda is the fact that many other parts of the world are going down the drain faster than NZ is.

      • What an utterly absurd statement.
        It’s like me saying that the only reason I haven’t won the Olympic 100m gold is lack of speed.
        It is the government’s job to provide serices to the best of its ability with the income it can derive from taxes.
        The fact that Labour is failing is because theyou grossly overestimated how much revenue they could raise and wasted a fortune on stupid ideas such as fee free university study.
        Bunch of total idiots.

  4. With the greatest respect….

    But how about this interview? For all you winston peters fanciers.
    ‘Arsehole’ doesn’t quite do him justice.
    Kim Hill? Oh.My.God.
    Awesome.

    https://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=2018662804

    What. Was.Winston.Peters. Talking. To. Don. Brash. About. In.That. Infamous. Street. Photograph?
    Is that spelled out clear enough, winston peters fanciers club of Parnell? All you silly old buggers who think his aggression and rudeness is somehow cool in some way?

    Is peters a deviant, Machiavellian confederate put in place to destabilise any government he taints to distract from the criminality that is the $-cult called neo liberalism and what they did, and do, to us?

    Is the answer yes?
    If so, then, now what?

  5. It’s quite simple really. It’s no good being a nun holding a piece a piece of gypsophila when the world you walk into is like one of crazed gang members out of it on P. Or going into a ward of massed victims of the most virulent flesh eating disease with half a dozen aspro.

    This is the world of dirty politics, desperation politics and dire politics. This is not a world for difference or hope.

    • @ PETE.
      I agree.
      You write:
      “This is the world of dirty politics, desperation politics and dire politics.”

      It is. You’re correct.

      But why…?
      Why?

      NZ/AO is a tiny population of well educated, well travelled, egalitarian people, of which some are simply amazing on a global scale. Some of us are extraordinary by any measure while the rest of us raise the bar on ‘average’.

      So why then, this world class political deviancy? World class Machiavellian confederacy? The worlds sharpest minds armed with first world educations are
      prowling around our government buildings doing their very best at being as completely immoral, evil and bent as they can be.

      Why? What’s going on…?

      They have something to hide. And when the well intended ‘get in’ to parliament, they shrivel into the shadows as if they’ve seen a ghost.
      Why?

      Well, I know why. And you, all of you, need to find out Why for yourselves.
      You can’t book-learn to be a carpenter. You need to get your hands dirty.
      Speaking of books, however.
      There’re three books I bought it in Winton, Southland not long ago.
      In those books, there’s every answer to every question we might have with regard to NZ/AO’s dire political and financial predicaments.

      ( You’ll laugh, honestly.)

      The titles?
      ‘Wool. A history of New Zealand’s wool industry.’
      By Bill Carter and John Macgibbon
      In there, there are photographs of a cadre of dodgy old fuckers who’d made billions out of the wool ‘industry’ and fundamentally kick started the problems we struggle with to this day.
      ‘ The Christchurch Club.’ All what-O etc. They even had a separate building set aside for the wives….
      I quote from the text beside a photograph on page 18 showing two grand old buildings.
      ” The Christchurch Club, hub of the Canterbury Run Holders’ Universe- their base for accommodation, net working and political discussions.
      On the left side of this photograph taken by AC Barker in 1861, is Collins’ Family Hotel ( Later renamed The Occidental), where club member’s wives often stayed.”

      and

      ‘Philip Temple’s South Island of New Zealand.’
      A photographic/text study of NZ/AO prior to NZ/AO being destroyed by the greed of the above ‘Wool’ mafiosi.

      Finally and best of all…
      ‘The Unauthorised Version. A cartoon history of New Zealand. By Ian F Grant ‘

      ‘There’s many a true word spoken in jest.’

      NZ/AO farmers financed the construction of NZ/AO’s assets. Literally. And a generation later, their traitorous spawn saw that wealth and stole it from under our noses as if we were babies in a cot with a packet of lollies. Snap of the fingers! Kid looks away, reach in, pinch the lollies. Not rocket surgery people but you still haven’t twigged on yet.
      When you do, however. I’d hate to be one of those fuckers who’re all about private wealth creation and public liability.

  6. Ok. I have to admit it. I was in a hurry to my ablutions and didn’t read your Post closely enough @ CT. Do brain surgeons skim read? If so , then we should all be concerned if we ever find ourselves under the knife after having gone numb down one side, the tea cup lying broken on the floor.
    Jacinda’s problem is winston peters. There’s nothing surer. He’s a nasty little bully and he’s a bit thick too. Maybe he’s just old? If so,he should be wearing plaid on some golf course somewhere playing with his little balls.
    Speaking of playing? peters did play a crafty game to get into Labour’s rank though, I’m forced to admit. Pretending to be difficult to catch when, in reality, he was gagging to get close to Adern so he could sabotage her from within her government.
    If he behaves toward Adern like he tried to behave towards Kim Hill? Then, he’s the toad in the witches cauldron.
    Jacinda Adern? Now’s the time to come clean about NZ / AO.
    The Great NZ/AO Lie must now be laid bare.
    A warning.
    When one’s strolling around Auckland’s financial sector? Should keep an eye on the sky because when the Lie’s spelled out? Financiers will jump out windows and fall like autumn leaves. Mince wrapped in Gorgeio Armani.
    To make life easier for the clean up people $-Boys and $-Girls? A vacuum cleaner tube from the exhaust pipe through the window of the BMW. Much tidier. Now, off you go x

  7. Hold on, hold on! Lets put together another committee and see what they come up with in 12 months, say? The party that does not “Lead” and definitely doesnt make decisions! 9 years in opposition and they did absolutely nothing! They learned nothing! Planned for nothing! And so far, have done nothing!

    • Open your mind, it is still closed off. If you mean compared to the corrupt last government, then no they haven’t done anything like that just yet.

      John Key gave his mate the government spy job…fact
      Todd Barclay was abusive to his staff and English lied to cover him.
      National had over 150 committee’s in it’s first year.

      As I have stated, only when you open your eyes will you see.

  8. “Jacindamania” was brought into by people susceptible to the banal. “Lipstick on a pig” sums up Labour policies coming into the election.

    Hopefully the government will pass some meaningful legislation, sooner rather than later. We’re all still waiting for a letting fee and foreign buyer ban. Cannabis/drug reform anyone?

    People interested in politics are akin to YouTube influencers .. please them and they’ll spread your Gospel, disappoint us and we’ll turn your dreams to shame.

    “Jacindamania” = National losing the election, not Labour winning. Be bold with passing policy or you’ll find yourselves back on the opposite side of the House, quick smart!

  9. A fickle electorate, boring with Bill English (who wouldn’t be?) was nevertheless put off Labour by the unlikeable Andrew Little. So when Jacinda took over of course there was a bump in their popularity.

    The problem they now face is that stardust is a temporary phenomenon.

    Labour was in opposition for nine long years and during that time never undertook any ‘due diligence’ in developing policy detail. All their ‘policies’ were facile – basically just virtue signalling from the opposition benches….which was OK until Winston came knocking.

    The question remains – why did Labour not undertake any in-depth policy analysis whilst in opposition?

    I can think of two reasons but would like a Labour insiders view as to what went on:

    1. Long standing Labour ideology didn’t match the reality of the 21st century, so rather than confront the issue (as Blair did in the UK) and dispose of outmoded rhetoric, they chose to shy away from it.

    2. The factionalization created by Clark meant that difficult policy issues could not be addressed without upsetting one or more of the factions.

    • Actually Andrew your whole post fell over at “the unlikeable Andrew Little” As this was a generalisation( many of us have worked with Andrew and like him a lot) and many political pundits post election have commented on an outstanding job, the rest of your post is just trivial.

      • Bert (or is it Andrew?), people have different tastes I suppose.

        However despite your personal preferences:

        1. His removal as leader caused a bounce in popularity. That’s hard to argue with.

        2. Little twice stood as candidate in his home town and increased his opponents majority.

  10. When Jacinda said “lets do this” I never thought she was referring to anything but what she had been contemplating for the previous few days. Namely should she take on the leadership she had been offered out of the blue , or not. Maybe wait for a bit more experience. It was a very big step up in responsibility. She decided to give it a go.. “let’s do this”.
    I don’t believe and never thought that she had or ever claimed to have a set of ideas and innovations outside of those of the senior members of her parliamentary team. She did not and does not intend to be the innovator of policy. She is the spokesperson for the policies (if there are any) of the parliamentary labour party. She is not the party. And she is not the government. It isn’t fair to her to hold her responsible for the inadequacies of the party’s ideas. She could not impose different ideas on them even if she had some.
    But though she might have been more pliant than some of her collogues to accommodating Winston’s ideas where they deviated from labour’s , in the end the senior members of her party were never going to be pushed around by him. They are as conservative as you can get.
    NZF is a party that has collected around a charismatic leader because of his personality and his ideas. Labour is a party that exists on it’s inertia from personalities that once attracted support who have long ago left the scene. Jacinda has stepped up to be it’s figurehead for now, but she will never own it like Winston owns NZF. She shouldn’t be expected to. It’s still the old white men that control the ship.
    D J S

  11. You go with the flow Chris but you’re overstating Jacinda’s decline. I was never a Jacinda fan (I told Little to stay on when LP invited members to comment!) She’s not entirely insubstantial when she confidently takes a stand on protecting the weak among the populace and her own MPs. Some of us object to the neo-liberal aspect of Labour’s policies but that doesn’t worry you. She is in an ABC cabal & her right hand man led the pack against leftie Cunliffe, so despite moves on housing they’re holding back on many promised reforms in order to balance the books. All predictable. However, she has a quick wit, remains personable, never vicious, which is very appealing. I think she remains high in the polls.

  12. Jacinda has now decided that it is more important to help the Iraqi military fight ISIS, that consideration must be given to NZ businesses, that farmers cannot be upset with introducing water levies, that environmental issues are better dealt with by applying a bit of green-washing, and that unions, beneficiaries and others better be more patient, before any significant changes are brought in for their benefit.

    Election campaign slogans are easily passed through the lips, but governing over a country and population, where many vested interest holders exist, that is somewhat different and more complex and difficult to do.

  13. Well we have to ask ourselves one basic question:
    When we have had almost a decade of government that
    1. encouraged class division
    2. sold NZ assets off to the highest overseas bidder
    3. turned a blind eye to massive environmental degradation
    4. created and nurtured a level of lies and corruption within government hitherto unknown in NZ
    AND
    5. declared that it was all “business as usual”
    Then how do you fix all that, especially when all those who benefitted most from it run most of the media sites?
    You can’t do it within a year, or three, or nine.
    You don’t hit the ground running, because you soon trip over.
    It takes slow methodical planning to make the kind of changes that our country needs, not quick fix solutions.
    It is easy to say that Labour is not doing enough on this and that, etc. but if it was National in government what would be happening?
    More business as usual.
    Do we want that?

  14. OK – so the honeymoon is over.

    Business may be grumpy, transNational may be grumpy but –

    “Labour is also viewed as the political party that is most capable of managing five of the top six issues facing New Zealand today, especially the issue of healthcare – at 41%, Labour’s ability to manage the issue of healthcare is 19 points ahead of National (22%).”

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1809/S00145/new-zealanders-concerns-about-housing-issues-grow.htm

  15. The still birth of the Economics of Hope in New Zealand, killed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hopeless economics naivety, aided and abetted by her neo-liberal cabinet Ministers who are more interested in directing the fiscal power of the nation to feed the profits of the banks and the corporations, and the greed of the 10 percent entttled parasites that infest our community, rather than wiping out the scourge of unemployment (4.5 percent jobless rate, 144,000 Kiwis unemployed, in June 2018), relieving the debt burden of NZ households (91.8 percent of GDP in January 2018), providing FREE tertiary education, providing our hospitals and health boards with the required funding for them to look after our citizens properly, wiping out the shameful homelessness and poverty that still exist in our community.

  16. I wonder if Bernie Sanders could come down for a few weeks and tour the country giving some inspirational speeches on what the left can deliver.

    I would pay to hear him talk.

    The Natz would love it.

  17. Delightful, Chris. Indictment of the hanging-around Labour Party.

    She’ll read it no doubt.

    Come clean, unlike me , have you ever voted for Labour after ’84 ? Just establishing whether I’m ahead of you in the line to Heaven. ‘Justice , though the whole world be destroyed’ Lefty puritanism.

    I mostly vote Green, except for the previous but one on your recommendation, but I would prefer Alliance. Where economics came first. Though the climate is the priority economics is the only means of grabbing the wheel from the half-edicated sort who become rich.

  18. What a total load of negative bollocks. Why don’t you media hacks actually take a look at the good things the government has done instead of trying to pull a woman down. Jacinda is very popular and is doing an amazing job considering you lot are constantly at her throat.

  19. What a total load of negative bollocks. Why don’t you media hacks actually take a look at the good things the government has done instead of trying to pull a woman down. Jacinda is very popular and is doing an amazing job considering you lot are constantly at her throat.

  20. The best that can be said of Labour is that they’re not National, and the best that can be said of National is that they’re not Labour.

  21. I think Jacinda is holding together this coalition Govt rather well, it is her job to hold the thing together for its full term, its not her job to come up with solutions to every problem this complex disintegrating country and world is throwing at her feet. That is for the rest of the members, the opposition, the public, the interest groups around the country to come up with, put forward debate and implement.
    The fact she faces an opposition that has vowed to be nothing but disruptive spoilt self seeking brats refusing to contribute is a minor hurdle. Who can blame National – when they were in Govt they faced an opposition that did very little but sit and sharpen their pencils waiting for the Nats to outstay their welcome. Which of course they did.
    I think Labour expected another easy term out of Govt but Jacinda bursting out of the cake being build by The Greens, TOP and NZFirst suddenly flung Labour unexpectedly into the hot seats.
    The well trodden path down Neolib Lane towards slashing the environment down, selling citizenship and land overseas and buying fake carbon credits belongs so much to National that only Grant Robinson and a couple of others would go there. So where do Labour go – the workers are in tatters from 40 years of both Govts. The Greens are semi trying to save us AND the planet but everyone knows saving our species is political suicide. A brief look through human history and most people know that saving our planet and saving our species are conflicting and not compatible ideas.
    So maybe the Nats are right, cash up what we can and serve the spoils up to the undeserving rich who will sit out with a drink or two on a newly acquired balcony and watch the landscape burn, watch the poor fight amongst themselves as they get closer and closer to the gated community and place bets that they might extinguish themselves before they break in.
    And a happy New Year and yes Xmas, unwrapping indestructible plastic in the shape of throwaway toys wrapped in single use biodynamic paper imported from twice around the world.

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