New Zealand’s PM has achieved an historic landslide for the left. But such is her caution that social progress will unfold on a geological timescaleby Max Rashbrooke / October 19, 2020 / Leave a comment
New Zealand’s geology and culture are often at odds. Famously prone to earthquakes, the South Pacific nation has, nonetheless, a low-wattage, “she’ll be right” attitude to life that does not lend itself to political landslides, at least not since it adopted proportional representation three decades ago.
But it just got an electoral earthquake. Despite the wear and tear of holding power for three years, Jacinda Ardern has led her Labour Party to an astounding 49 per cent vote tally and an outright majority, consigning the opposition National Party to a mere quarter of the vote. It was a rout, a “blue bloodbath,” and a swing to an incumbent party for which there are few if any modern parallels.
Yet it is hardly the decisive left-wing victory that it might appear to the outside world. If the New Zealand Labour Party is on a journey, it is one in which some important paths have been firmly blocked off, their vistas disappearing from view, even as other ones open.
There is no argument that Ardern has, in some respects, profoundly changed the political landscape. Her compassionate response to last year’s terrorist attack on Christchurch Muslims, combined with her impressively competent handling of Covid-19, have shown that kindness is not a political weakness but in fact a virtue, a form of strength.
I summed up her emerging “ethos of kindness” in a profile for Prospect last year, and it is an approach which has now been thoroughly vindicated in narrow electoral terms, gaining her unparalleled trust among centre-right voters. It has also completely changed the tenor of New Zealand politics, at least for the present. She dominates the political scene, and can now carry the country with her on issues that might otherwise have seemed out of reach.
Free school lunches, currently being piloted in a handful of schools, will be rolled out to hundreds of thousands of children. So-called fair pay agreements will allow workers who win good terms with one employer to get those conditions spread right across their industry. New Zealand’s equivalent of council house building will be ramped up, minimum wages lifted, dirty rivers cleaned up.
Economical with radicalism
Few of these policies are especially innovative, though; many are already standard in…