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Dr Bryce Edwards


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Morris - RNZ 1 August 2017 Labour Ardern

New Labour leader Jacinda Ardern is promising to run an election campaign characterised by “relentless positivity”. And, so far, there’s been an almost relentlessly positive response to her rise to the top. It appears that Ardern’s extraordinary elevation is going to lift this election campaign out of the ordinary, too. Below are some of the more interesting examples of “The Jacinda Effect” taking hold.

1) Jacinda Ardern dominates the newspaper front pages today – see my blog post aggregating how the media has responded: Media coverage of Jacinda Ardern as Labour leader

2) Newshub’s political editor Patrick Gower is not afraid of attacking or grilling politicians, but he seems to have been struck by Jacindamania, writing two very positive accounts of the new leader. In his report, Ardern could capitalise on the mood for change, he says “Jacinda Ardern represents one thing that Bill English and National never can – change. And if you can harness change, it is one of the most powerful political weapons there is.” 

3) In a second opinion piece, Jacinda’s on fire, National should be frightened, Gower really lets loose, summing up Ardern’s first media appearance like this: “Powerful, composed, eloquent – and actually quite funny.” He adds: “Ardern brings energy…. She has presence. She isn’t anxious – she looks in control. She doesn’t look reluctant – she looks ready. And importantly, Jacinda Ardern has got that valuable political ingredient – vibe. She has got serious vibe. One of her weaknesses was supposedly that ‘she doesn’t want it’. Well, she has got it now – and looks like she really wants it. If National aren’t scared now – they should be. Because if anyone can cause a political ‘youthquake’, it’s Jacinda.”

4) Other political editors also have high praise for Ardern. Fairfax’s Tracy Watkins reports on her power: “I’ve seen her on the campaign trail and it is clear she has the x-factor. At a gathering in New Plymouth she was supposedly the warm up act to Little. But it was clear she was the main event. Ardern had the audience in the palm of her hand – when Little took over he spent 50 minutes talking into a microphone and it was clear he had lost them after the first 10. The people who left that pub that night would have voted for Ardern – but I’m not sure they would have voted for Little. Even the party faithful among them” – see: Can the Ardern factor save Labour? 

Watkins believes Ardern and Kelvin Davis “are potential game changers.” She says they “will shake up the political landscape. And they ring the generational changes after three terms of National.”

5) Herald political editor Audrey Young believes that Ardern will inject some dynamism into the election campaign: “Jacinda Ardern will have what the billboard promises: a fresh approach. When people turn on their screens to watch Bill English debate the Labour leader over the next two months, they are now less likely to change channels or scroll away. Bill English vs Andrew Llttle was a gift for the likes of Winston Peters and Metiria Turei. English vs Ardern will inject a level of interest in this election and a fresh hope for Labour to recover some dignity from the result. It is still not inconceivable that Labour could be part of the next Government” – see: Ardern is fresh, impressive and interesting.

6) Audrey Young also suggests that Ardern is going to make National’s re-election more difficult: “Jacinda Arden’s elevation as Labour leader has sent a chill through the National Party in inverse proportion to the sheer radiance emanating from the Labour caucus over the change” – see: Ardern does not need to be Labour’s Joan of Arc. Again, on Ardern’s first media appearance: “Arden’s press conference was a command performance of a competent new leader that stunned most of those watching, and especially those who have believed she was not a woman of substance.”

7) TVNZ political editor Corin Dann was also impressed by Ardern, saying she clearly energises people. He describes the change in leadership as a circuit breaker for the Labour campaign, saying it gets them back in the game as they now have a leader who can communicate their policies effectively – see: “She absolutely convinced everyone she wants the job” – Corin Dann impressed by Jacinda Ardern’s first day in charge

8) The political editor of The Spinoff website hedges his bets with the pros and cons of the new leadership team, but his pros are worth citing: “Jacinda Ardern is Labour’s greatest hope, a potential breath of fresh air, a vital contrast with the grey familiarity of prime minister Bill English”, and, “the centre-left alternative now looks decisively more diverse and modern than the status quo” – see: Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis: why this is terrible for Labour, and why it is brilliant.

9) Also at The Spinoff, Simon Wilson predicts big things for the new leadership team: “Jacinda Ardern is going to try hope. She’ll keep flashes of the anger, that’s plain enough, but she knows what it really takes: project a warm, winning confidence, make people like you so they want to listen to you, identify with them and inspire them with the belief that you are there for them and have the skills to help them. It’s what Bill English does, and Metiria Turei and Winston Peters too. It’s what John Key did. It’s what Andrew Little couldn’t do. But Jacinda Ardern has already demonstrated that she can” – see: Why Jacinda is the answer and Andrew didn’t understand the question

Wilson also comments on Ardern’s strong performance at her first press conference: “She reduced the assembled hacks of the press gallery to laughter, several times. She reduced ol’ hatchet man Paddy Gower to something you might almost call adulation. Imagine what that takes.”

10) Veteran political journalist Richard Harman of the Politik website declares that “Ultimately this has made the election more difficult for National to win”, and he reports that National is worried about how to deal with the new Leader of the Opposition: “National fears that any attacks on Ardern, a relentlessly positive person, could be seen as bullying” – see: What will Ardern mean for the Nats. He also notes that Ardern might even steal votes off National: “Whether she will win over National votes is less clear. But during the Mt Albert by-election earlier this year there was some evidence that she picked up votes in National voting parts of the electorate.”

11) Writing just before the leadership change, Newsroom’s Tim Murphy argued why Ardern was the best choice to take Labour into the election – see: Cometh the hour, cometh Jacinda. He makes plenty of arguments in her favour, which include: “She matches Peters too, in being familiarly known by her first name – and being able to flash a smile that could burst a ballot box. She’s urban but not too urban, being from Morrinsville and the University of Waikato. She’s young, having turned 37 last week, but Emmanuel Macron is 39 and vying for leadership of the free world. She’s been an MP for nearly nine years, has claimed a lifetime seat in Mt Albert, and worked under four Labour leaders. She worked as a researcher for Helen Clark before that.”

12) The leftwing blogosphere appears to be highly favourable towards the new leader. And Martyn Bradbury represents this best in his blog post, Why is Jacinda popular and can she turn Labour’s fortunes around? Bradbury puts forward a generational argument in Ardern’s favour: “She’s part of a kinder Generation taught and brought up in a culture that was desperate to be inclusive of others and that ignoring inclusivity was the greatest sin. This is why she is so widely popular. She brings with, she doesn’t talk down to, she is all about getting agreement to move forward because that was how decision making was being taught in our education system. Jacinda is a product of her generation, and because most of the pundits are older than her, they judge her by their own generations combativeness and cynicism. Which is why they don’t get her. I think her skills to quietly bring together and find unoffensive ways to work alongside each other for a common good came incredibly early for Jacinda.”

13) The political commentariat are increasingly using the term “game changer” about Ardern. And that spans the likes of both Chris Trotter and Matthew Hooton – see Anna Bracewell-Worrall’s Jacinda Ardern is a ‘game changer’ – commentators

14) “The Jacinda Effect” is galvanising Labour’s support base. Isaac Davison reports Labour’s General secretary Andrew Kirton: “We’ve never seen anything remotely like this. It was coming in at something like $700 a minute” – see: New Labour leadership has lifted fundraising and galvanised Maori, Kelvin Davis says. Kelvin Davis also claims that the change of leadership “has brought in more than $100,000 and 600 new volunteers for Labour in 24 hours”.

15) So far the only public opinion polls providing any feedback on how the public feel about the leadership change are online (unscientific) ones. Nonetheless, they suggest that Jacindamania is widespread. The Herald’s online survey says “43 per cent said they would now consider switching their vote to Labour” – see: Labour’s new leader Jacinda Ardern gets a warm welcome from voters. Similarly, on the Herald Facebook site, “Of the 3700 people who responded, 2400 said they would now vote for her, or 65 per cent”. And the Interest.co.nz website also records very positive results for Labour – see: Interest.co.nz readers believe installing Ardern and Davis was the right move and that it’ll help their election chances

16) Radio talkback land is also apparently positive about Labour’s new line-up. Newstalk ZB’s Mark Dye reports on what he heard from callers yesterday: “if the feedback I witnessed in the four hours of talkback Kerre and I did on the subject on Tuesday is anything to go by, this is a step in the right direction. No more Little, and Ardern in his place has people excited. I know this will upset the policy wonks amongst us, but the populace like warm and personable. As a wonk myself, I hope an approachable demeanour is not the only reason a person chooses to vote for a particular party, but it certainly warms them to it. Time and time again we heard that this is why people liked Key. Ardern has this” – see: Old and worn versus fresh and new

17) Finally, to see how satirists are dealing with the new leader, see my blog post, Cartoons about new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern.