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elections nz

So, What Are Jacinda Ardern’s Chances?

After the initial furore surrounding her battle with the patriarchy, VICE takes a sober look at what it'll take for Ardern to be New Zealand's next prime minister.
Screen grab of Jacinda Ardern on the AM Show. Image via YouTube.

It felt like a campaign-defining moment: Jacinda Ardern, after comprehensively and happily answering the tiresome, but predictably prevalent baby question, rounded on Mark Richardson, former cricketer, host of the AM Show, a man who earlier in the week had cheerfully admitted to shitting off the back of his jetski. Warmth drained from her face and voice as she turned to Richardson and levelled a finger: "But, you…" she started, refusing to yield as he tried to interrupt.

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So began Ardern's first full day as leader of the country's second-biggest political party, following Andrew Little's resignation. It was the first morning of what she had promised, in her maiden speech as leader, would be a "relentlessly positive campaign".

With an unprecedented number of donations rolling into the Labour election treasury—and 600 new volunteers within the first 24 hours of Ardern's appointment—it looks as if the public is responding to her positivity in kind. Indeed, you wonder how, and why, Ardern, long talked about as a potential Prime Minister, wasn't made leader much earlier. If she had been, instead of the succession of middle-aged men that preceded her, perhaps Labour now would not have to dig itself out of the serious hole it finds itself in.

Whether the appointment of Ardern as leader is enough to do that won't be known until the polls begin to show the public reaction to her leadership, but initial signs look good for Labour. The sexism that has followed the announcement of a woman of childbearing age putting herself forward for the country's highest office is discouraging, but the outrage that followed—from across the political and media spectrum—is, at least, heartening.

Labour will hope Ardern is able to reinvigorate not just the party, but the left-wing bloc that is crucial to its success. In 2008, the Greens and Labour together took 41 percent of the vote; this had declined to 36 percent by 2014, with the Greens nearly doubling their proportion of the combined vote. Ardern's challenge, then, is to strengthen the Labour Party without stealing votes from the Greens and, to a lesser extent, from New Zealand First. Which means, of course, taking votes from National.

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National, naturally, is suggesting that, while Ardern will increase Labour's popularity, those votes will come at the expense of other leftwing parties. Finance Minister Steven Joyce told Radio New Zealand this morning that Labour had "struggled" to stay fresh. "The danger for Labour," he said, "is they keep thinking that it's not the message that's wrong in the last nine years it's the messenger that's wrong—and if they can just keep changing their messenger they'll find one who can get their message across."

For a political party that spent the majority of three terms coasting on the personal popularity of Sir John Key, it's a little glib to play down the role that personality politics will play in this election, but perhaps understandable given Bill English's deficiency in that area.

And given that the two strongest political plays of the campaign have so far both come from left-wing women—Ardern's ascension following Metiria Turei's admission of historic benefit fraud—it's not too much to hope for that the left can offer a vision of the country's future that could sway the much-mythologised "swing voter" away from National.

According to Stuff's "poll of polls", the combined Labour-Greens proportion of the vote was, before Ardern's rise, 40 percent, 5.1 percent behind National. It's not too difficult—if Ardern is able to continue to harness the glowing media coverage, and forgetting about the NZ First wild card for the moment—to imagine three percent of the electorate switching from National to Labour by September 23. As she said in her first speech to Parliament, a day after assuming the leadership: "They say a week is a long time in politics. I can tell you that just 24 hours can feel like a very long time in politics. Imagine, then, what can be done, what can be changed, what can be achieved in just over 50 days."

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