Jacinda’s Magic Politics


WHAT IS IT? This weird, emotionally energetic style of politics that promises “transformational” change and then, mysteriously, fails to deliver it? What should we call it? Something less than the old-fashioned left-wing populism of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. Much more, however, than the cynical deployment of standard PR techniques. It is a style which has so far defied all attempts to pin a label on it.


Nameless though it may be, few would deny that Jacinda Ardern is its most brilliant local exponent. Her openness: the sheer force of her empathic projection; imbues our Prime Minister’s statements with extraordinary persuasive power. So effective are “Jacinda’s” communication skills, that a great many New Zealanders have taken to confusing her declarations with actual achievements. Those who point out the discrepancy between the Prime Minister’s magnificent words and her government’s less-than-magnificent deeds are not well received. But, that does not mean they are wrong.


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Her memorable declaration, made at the launch of the Labour Party’s 2017 election campaign, that climate change would be her generation’s nuclear-free moment, epitomises Ardern’s political style. So richly evocative of selfless activism and against-all-odds success was her declaration that Ardern’s audience’s critical faculties were suspended. Almost as if the promise and the deed were one and the same. Some people might call what she did “casting a spell”. Others, even more provocatively, might call it “magic”.


But, magic of a certain kind. Ardern’s are not the sort of spells that begin with fantasy but end in reality. Jacinda is no Churchill. Rather than a magician, she is a conjurer. What Ardern weaves with her words are not the intentions that lead to actual deeds, but the dangerous illusion that what is being asked of her has already been accomplished – made real by her unmistakable sincerity and the power of her will. Once she has declared her determination to end child poverty, who could be so churlish as to point out that the children of the poor are still with us?


Ardern’s conjuring is perfectly suited to that crucial group of voters who detached themselves from the National Party in response to what they saw as the “awful” problems which John Key and Bill English had failed to address during their nine years in office. Homelessness and unaffordable housing; worsening child poverty; inadequate spending on health and education; filthy rivers and streams; the manifest inadequacies of New Zealand’s mental health services: something had to be done.


Or, at least, something had to said that made them feel better than the bleak and blameful rhetoric of Paula Bennett and Judith Collins.


Ardern’s game-changing intuition was that all these voters really wanted to hear were different words. Commitments, promises, studies, working-groups, projects: policies filled with good intentions and promoted with powerful displays of empathy. The number of voters eager to focus on the fiscal mechanisms required to pay for Labour’s kinder, gentler New Zealand were considerably fewer.


That had always been the problem with Labour’s dreary procession of earnest middle-aged blokes. They had all been way too keen on the nuts and bolts; far too ready to tell everybody how much fiscal pain they would have to be willing to suffer in order to make all the good things they wanted for New Zealand affordable. Who the hell wanted to hear about that!


That was Jacinda’s gift. A young face. A bright smile. A “Let’s Do This!” willingness to hit the ground running. And, most of all, an extraordinary ability to make her middle-class supporters believe that, as with the relentless rise in the value of their houses, her “politics of kindness” could be brought into being without serious sacrifice or effort.


Every successful conjurer, however, must have their very own Jonathan Creek. Somebody to design and build the equipment that turns the conjurer’s masterful misdirection into a reality that baffles and delights. Ardern’s misfortune is to preside over a coalition government decidedly lacking in Jonathan Creeks. Thanks to Clare Curran, Phil Twyford, Iain Lees-Galloway, Grant Robertson and Shane Jones, too many people in the audience are being distracted from Ardern’s magic spiel. Some are even beginning to work out how the tricks are done.


This is not how the story is supposed to end. Not with people wondering whether the Prime Minister’s promises are ultimately achievable.


It’s not that “Jacinda” has become less likeable. What New Zealander, watching her cut such an impressive figure on the international stage, has not felt a surge of national pride. It’s just that Ardern’s “Magic Politics”, as with all kinds of fiction, is absolutely dependent on the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief.


If (or should that be ‘as’) people discover that fighting climate change and ending child poverty will require the imposition of real and rising taxes, then Ardern’s illusions will begin to fade. The voters will start noticing the strings attached to her magical promises.


And the spell will be broken.



  1. Well we can’t deal with the failed legacy of the previous governments budget cuts with out creating some new tax base and widen it by presumably cutting out corporate and tax free personal benefits. This tax debate has over taken the government. It’s hard enough doing taxes with experienced 16 tax pros, imagine having to sit down with 40 MPs, have of which have never done economic policy in there lives, in this case people like Kiri Tapu, Golriz, Tamiti. I think they’re good I really do but the one thing Jacinda can not do is take her hand off the steering wheel and leave it to them. Of course the issue is to insure a tax package that can meet the governments obligations to its electorates can be finalised and that’s when the game will get really savage so now Jacinda has to insure all her monsters understands the economic theories behind the tax package in the next 6 months or sooner the better so it just breezes in.

    • Sam you don’t have to have an economics degree to understand economics we only have to look at the so called professionals advice on CGT even they can’t agree. I did economics at 5th form level and I found it to be crap each to his own many of our wealthiest people didn’t have economics degrees in fact some didn’t even have an education. The tax issue is one of fairness something lacking in our country. People can learn on the job and many do and have gone on to be very successful. We need to stop that tall poppy syndrome stuff here its bad. Lastly what was Bill English degree did he do economics cause he was fucken useless and yet he got a knighthood for his effort.

      • Well put it this way, Rogger Douglas new about his brand of economics but very few else knew about it. When signing up to a set of policies as far reaching as tax reform its kind of good policy to insure that your team has even a basic understanding.

  2. Jacinda convinces people because she is open and she really believes in what she is saying; it isn’t any kind of deception. It’s just that like Trump in America she doesn’t actually have the power to deliver on her undertakings. The real power is in the hands of the less noticeable group you identify behind the scenes. Including the un elected ones of yesteryear.
    D J S

  3. Sorry Chris, I have never seen anything magical about Jacinda Adern.

    As a candidate, she espoused a whole lot of aspirational nonsense that had little connection with reality, the most blatant example being what you have highlighted:

    ‘Her memorable declaration, made at the launch of the Labour Party’s 2017 election campaign, that climate change would be her generation’s nuclear-free moment, epitomises Ardern’s political style.’

    All the talk about ‘getting serious about climate change’ was just empty rhetoric.

    In reality, the Adern government has promoted policies that have made all the predicaments -not just the environmental predicament- worse in the long term. And the Adern government has offered nothing in terms of preparation for conditions that will prevail in the near future, when the consequences of the decades-long binge of overconsumption of resources and overproduction of waste really start to hit home.

    What made Jacinda Adern electable and what has kept her in office has been her commitment to business-as-usual.

    • Jacinda Ardern has with those comments done great harm to those who really and honestly want to do something about the environment and climate change, as she has shown yet again, that politicians talking about it, do not do as they say.

      So more and more people get turned off dealing with those challenges, they also use it as an excuse to do nothing, just look outside, and see the cars roll down the Southern Motorway as per usual, neck to neck, tail to tail.

      Grand talking politicians without substance are like used car sales person selling crap, or door to door sales persons doing the same.

  4. Nice analogy there Chris, and a very timely piece, but unfortunately lacking the wider lens needed to come to grips with the bigger question..if Ardern is sincere about all the issues that she rightly goes on about, and I am quite sure that she is, then why is she (and Labour or course) so ineffectual in actually addressing those very important issues substantively?
    To me the answer is quite simple, Labour has been an openly free market liberal party for over 25 years, this is it’s core political ideology, so therefore it can only operate within the economic ideological framework that is dictated to it by that strict political belief, so it is no coincidence that all countries around the world that operate under this same political ideology as us are facing pretty much the same problems as us, and are just as ineffectual as us in addressing them
    In fact I would go further and say that not only Labour but National, NZ First and NZ Greens cannot address any of the biggest problems facing NZ today in any really meaningful way because they have all been captured by essentially the same liberal ideology, which renders them all impotent to act.
    So maybe it is just little unfair to point out Ardern’s secret magic tricks, when the very economic system that she represents, defends and and is the one of the shining poster people for (as was Trudeau, but we won’t talk about that) of free market liberalism is quite literately just one huge magic trick, or maybe more accurately one huge ponsie scheme that all political parties in NZ adhere to in one form or another.

    If a really run down house selling for the thick end of $500,000 in Hastings is not ringing serious alarm bells in the critical thinking part of your cranium, then I would say that your critical thinking brain has been subdued by that far more powerful part of the brain, that part of the human subconscious that liberalism has unwittingly unlocked in so many of us…greed…and unfortunately when the genie of greed is let out of the bottle, it is almost impossible to get it back in, and so tragically there lays the real power of Ardern’s (Liberlisims) magic trick…most citizens want to, no, need to believe in it.

    There is only one answer…
    Turn labour Left!

    • Very good analysis Adrian. Good luck with your proposed solution though. Not going to happen anytime soon.

  5. Jacinda won’t tamper with the Neo Liberal Consensus between National and Labour, that the NZ working class has suffered under for almost 30 years now, and the top 20% or so, actively enjoy!

    Monetarist psychology is embedded in the consciousness of even the working poor, we are now a nation of “Winners” and especially–“Losers”…it is YOUR fault if you are not doing well in life–Geddit…

    The Reserve Bank Act, SOEs, free in and out flow of capital, and punitive WINZ/MSD/ACC system will go unmolested by Jacinda Ardern’s Govt.

  6. People could relate to Jacinda, because she was ‘one of us’. Small time girl from Morrinsville who Dad was the local cop. Surely this was finally someone who was real and understood middle NZ???? She just didn’t seem like a politician.

    Sadly while as an icon I think she is great, it is looking more like she is more a conjurer because the actual policy is still run by the accounting neoliberal guys in Labour who have never really had a practical job and think foreign investment is everything, committees run by the above big business galore giving their recommendations and the middle class should pay more taxes 33% while it seems to ‘scare’ business to make them pay more local business rates of 28%…. in the past used to be the other way around, 48% top corporate tax rate and top personal tax rate 39%. This could be why Australian banks are making $580,000 in New Zealand every hour… funny working tax group not worried about it… instead apparently want to take 33% of the locals already paying tax in any capital gain and I think $13,000 less Kiwisaver from those earning over $100k. To put that in perspective, the affordable houses of Kiwibuild are aimed at incomes up to $120k… so tax working group thinks $100k is a lot, which then is not enough to buy a house anymore… what gives?

    Like Hone’s post people are bewildered by finding that increasingly more government departments, COO or private enterprise are staffed by someone who just got here in the last few years, and increasingly in positions of power throughout government and private departments.

    So we are in effect rapidly changing our workforce, but nobody knows why, Kiwis too lazy and drugged out seems to be the discourse. Meanwhile another kiwi made redundant to make way for another foreigner on the magical $40k threshold for residency, which apparently only contributes $7 a week in taxes – but wait they will get a tax cut under the capital gains taxes, yippee!

    The joke use to be you would ring up a call centre and it would be answered by someone overseas who didn’t have a clue what was going on.

    We are now in high neoliberalism 21st century and now it works out better for global business if you just relocate the cheaper worker to the host countries and pay them less, while their health care, accomodation supplements, WFF and welfare needs can be taken care of by the host nation! What a saving for big business!

    • “The joke use to be you would ring up a call centre and it would be answered by someone overseas who didn’t have a clue what was going on.”

      Those call centres are planned to be reduced and eventually phased out my most businesses and even government, as in future you will be expected to, yes condemned to, do it all ONLINE.

      Those who will be unable to have access to get ‘online’, whether unable to afford a good enough gadget, or unable to live in a residence where fibre or still copper is connected to the service delivery networks, they will become the invisible, they will simply not exist anymore, as their voice can nowhere be heard, and they cannot be seen by business operators, their sales staff and by governments even.

      The class system will become so brutal, it will resemble a ruthlessness not seen since medieval times, or since the slums that may no longer exist here, but that are still in many countries overseas.

      Truly Orwellian will be our future.

  7. You make several good points Chris.

    Jacinda’s easy charm is borne out of good looks and a ridiculously easy path to success.

    She’s never had to the hard grind of serious academic study, running a business, working in a professional role or even being a minister of the Crown. She’s never even assembled a competent private members bill whilst in opposition!

    So she slipped from a facile, virtue signalling seat in opposition to Prime Minister in one step. Almost by accident.

    A result of this is that there’s no serious and deep thinking behind any of her polices. Nothing has been thought through in detail. It seems that never in those nine years of opposition did the Labour caucus sit down and have a productive conversation on direction & policy. This is why she’s obfuscating with all these ‘working groups’: She’s a hollow vessel.

    • Too many that had some experience and skill and competence within Labour, they have moved on, they have left the party, as opposition work during nine years under Key was not that palatable, and as other ‘opportunities’ came their way, seeming to be ‘more palatable’.

      The present caucus and set of Ministers are rather mediocre, and it is showing.

  8. Would love to see a govt in this country that actually see’s in positive change. I gave up on Labour after Lange was elected back in the 80’s and moved on to other smaller parties.

    Nothing I have seen from Labour since would encourage me to vote for them or National for that matter.

  9. I she a hollow vessel like the hollow men that have ruined our country andrew actually are you are hollow man ?

    • Michelle, does that statement of yours actually mean anything? Or it is just a rather weak attempt at an insult?

      If you want to talk about specific issues or policies then do so. Otherwise, button it, sweetie.

  10. Yeah. I liken her to the ‘Suns’ “Mystic Meg!” Even MM can conjure up some tasty morsels of delusion for a day! Then, 24hrs later, its a new day and a brighter forecast. FFS.

  11. She is charismatic and probably even means what she says, but with no real change happening there will be a backlash.
    She is not an enigma in this respect, she is our Barack Obama. An eloquent man of high ideals who’s abject failure to change the system saw the rise of the alt right and Donald Trump.
    Beware the lessons of history.

    • You give them too much credit on the ‘high ideals’ score…Obama achieved pretty much everything he promised his masters and co conspirators. He’s a very happy man these days. He’s not a man tortured by regret and thwarted vision.

  12. If the Left-wing parties in power believe there is a shortfall in funding, then renationalise state assets. The profits of state companies flow straight into the Treasury so we don’t have to be taxed. The Left were all against state asset sales, as were most New Zealanders. So why don’t they just reclaim the energy companies? Don’t pay the foreign investors on Wall Street for the shares they bought, just steal the shares back from them. That will discourage them from buying up our companies again.

    • Just absolute genius!
      Never mind the moral issue of outright theft, let’s talk about the pariah that NZ would become.
      The economic fallout from that would make the gains from said theft look like pocket change.
      People like you make me laugh. Probably have never had a job in your life, but clearly have never had a working brain cell.

  13. “What New Zealander, watching her cut such an impressive figure on the international stage, has not felt a surge of national pride.?”

    Well actually Chris, This New Zealander. and I am not the only one!

    I felt nothing but embarrassment, as I do every time I hear her speak. Appalling pronunciation and the master of waffle.

  14. Adern is just plain incompetent. Sadly with most of the Labour front benchers she is in excellent company.

    • Which in turn is a sad indictment on the pathetic National party and leader. Imagine the shit N.Z. would be in if they were in government.

  15. Sorry, Comrade Trotter, there is NO ‘magic’ in what Jacinda Ardern presents and does to us beholders and listeners.

    She may be a great speaker, a good communicator, but any communicator will eventually be expected to deliver the goods, or have someone they represent the goodies that were promised or at least suggested.

    One example of the total ineptness of many Ministers in government, and also their MPs of the parties belonging to the ‘coalition government’ and their Greens supporters, was a bill put before Parliament yesterday afternoon, to amend the law that the government brought in last year to pay persons on benefits and pensions the ‘winter energy payment’.

    In their rush to bring in the law they failed to realise that a few persons would not be covered, who they also wanted to be covered, for though some bizarre reasonings.

    So they had to come back and get a parliamentary mandate to amend, i.e. CORRECT, the law.

    We have Ministers answer some questions in Parliament, who are struggling, not only to explain themselves, but also to convince people. They are bending all over the show to defend their positions and actions.

    And Jacinda herself does not look that great when watching her in Parliament, e.g. during Question Time.

    You may say most people do never bother watching Parliament and the sessions held there. OK, but the MSM have to a fair degree already lost much hope and faith in Jacinda, the nasty attacks on her and the government are increasing, gradually, so far not that hitting as yet, but wait until the election campaign in next year gets under way.

    Jacinda is a fly by night phenomenon, she will vanish as quickly from the political landscape as she arrived a few years back, then being a junior, also showing little substance in her role as spokesperson on social security matters.

    That little substance is evident in her actions and words as PM now, and she is slowly discrediting herself, as fewer and fewer fall for the packaging, and dislike the contents.

    This patchwork government only got in, because too many grew tired of Key and English, and their way of talking and doing things, and the Nats got lazy, and let things slip, so we had some forms of crisis, that the opposition of then jumped at.

    Now they are as incapable as the Nats in solving housing un-affordability, poverty and so much more, certainly also the environment. We got a few smallish lollies for the middle class and those on benefits, but nothing much at all has chanced, but ‘words’.

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