Jacinda Ardern: A Leader to Follow

(Photo: Justice.gov.nz)

By Laura Powell – Regular Contributor

On the 19th January, Jacinda Ardern, 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand, announced that she would resign from the position, which will become effective on 7th January. She cited that she “no longer had enough in the tank” to perform the job to the best standard, and this leaves the Labour Party’s candidate unknown for the elections later this year. She will remain an MP until these elections, but stated a desire to spend more time with family by resigning from the position. 

Although domestic opinion polls have held Ardern’s popularity at some of its lowest in recent months, she did not believe this would impact the Labour Party’s chances of being successful at the next election. However her resignation prompted an outpouring of support, domestically and internationally, for her as a politician and an individual. 

Since her resignation, there have been considerable gains in the polls for the Labour Party and new prime minister Chris Hipkins, but the loss of such a strong leader could spell trouble for the strong majority gained by the Party in the 2020 election, with an extremely contentious election predicted in October. Despite the negative polls prior to her resignation, it seems unlikely that Jacinda Ardern’s legacy will be this negative for much of the world, particularly women and young girls interested in having high-flying careers.

During her time in office, she was praised for her strong action on certain political issues, including on climate change within a few months of her premiership, and on gun reforms after the 2019 terrorist attacks on a Mosque in Christchurch, and increasing minimum wage. She also successfully led her party to a landslide victory in 2020 elections, after her first term being part of a coalition. 

Most notably, she rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the stringent isolation and lockdown rules were looked upon with mixed views at the time. They entered lockdown after just one case of coronavirus was detected. They may have been strict, but there was significant success in reducing the infections and deaths caused by the disease. While many other countries had much more lax measures, New Zealand was ahead of the curve in implementing lockdown measures and continued them for longer than most other countries did. Since the pandemic began, there have been 3,781 deaths (around 5 million residents) in New Zealand, compared to 204,171 deaths (66.8 million residents) in the UK in the same time frame. 

She became a well-known and well-loved politician globally, and although, as politics goes, she had her critics, the significant support after her resignation signifies a job well done. This was particularly noticeable after the BBC published an article titled “Can women have it all?”. Following the unsurprisingly negative reaction, the BBC removed the article and issued an apology. But maybe this should prompt us to think more critically about whether her decision to step down because she didn’t feel she could continue, and to spend more time with family, is something which would have prompted a similar headline if she had been a man. More likely, it seems, that there would be a supportive response for a working man to admit to his need to take a break, and a particularly strong response as his desire to spend time with family would be praised for his being an involved parent. This issue need not be re-hashed as it was extensively discussed on many media outlets, particularly Twitter, but it definitely worth challenging thinking to see whether this would have been acceptable if the tables were turned.

It’s clear that Jacinda Ardern will be remembered as a strong, successful female leader. She was at the forefront of lockdown policies during lockdown, gaining worldwide acknowledgement (both praise and critiques). She had a baby whilst in office, and even took her child to the UN. She initiated intense gun law reforms after the 2019 terrorist attack. She spearheaded bold climate policies, including banning new offshore oil and gas explorations. She was the youngest head of the New Zealand government since 1856. She will be remembered by many as a leader acting first with kindness, then with strength and integrity.

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