Polls, like most tools, are a good servant but bad master, particularly when – as in the past decade and more – they seem to be almost the only moving part in parliamentary politics.
Throw the dead cat (aka poll result) on the table and see how long the commentariat spends picking over the carcase. Over the last week, it has been the game of gravelling opposition leader Andrew Little. Will he go? Won’t he go?
So he did, and within the hour, new leader Jacinda Ardern had done what nobody else has accomplished in years.
Pinned down during her first press conference on whether she was up to the job of handling a coalition with the Greens and New Zealand First, she established eye contact and name, batted the query back, more or less rhetorically, for emphasis and pointed out that she had been president of the International Union of Socialist Youth and responsible for making a conference work with young people from Lebanon, Palestine and Israel round the table.
Her wry “I think I can do this’’ was pitch perfect and the bellow of laughter she drew from media journalists was a sound seldom heard in New Zealand these days.
This was the Jacinda that we knew from the pub politics sessions on the island when, with comedians Jeremy Elwood and Jesse Mulligan, she revealed a well-developed knack for comic timing, cheerful banter and political point-scoring.
By Tuesday evening, she had established the signature cheerful good humour and thoughtful composure she uses when dealing with barbed and frequently downright sexist detractors. The media was calling it her honeymoon.
Get a grip. Give us credit for wanting more than such piffling generalisations about the leaders we will choose as we all face up to the monumental clean up needed to correct our social and societal settings. Across the Western world, democracy is being torn up, more or less intentionally, and most of us over a certain age are behaving like the frog being boiled slowly while increasingly bizarre and incongruent values are normalised.
The engagement of young people in the electoral process and a radical rebuild of trust in politics and politicians is the only real hope we may have, as demonstrated by the success of Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn. The young, especially, should demand that they can trust those they elect.
Trust is an interesting animal. In business, where every interaction has a consequence and trust is frequently required, there is a loose rule of thumb. In positions where you have to develop trust with someone, the first response is to trust them. That continues until something specific occurs to break the trust. Then it’s no half measures. Trust is absolutely removed until and unless the breaker of the trust repairs the damage in a meaningful way.
If they do so, the relationship can return to the beginning and trust restored.
In her maiden speech to Parliament in 2008, Ardern set out her belief that “our welfare state is a necessary safety net, and a support for those who are unable to support themselves” and called for compulsory teaching of te reo Maori in schools.
Is she a radical? In her home town, anyone who chose to drive a Toyota rather than a Holden or a Ford was a radical, she said. She answered to Social Democrat and said she believed strongly in the values of human rights, social justice, equality, democracy and the role of communities.
Since then, as the list Labour MP for Auckland and twice Labour candidate in our own Auckland Central seat, she’s been an admirable public figure for newspapers like ours, advocating and resourcing debate and awareness on the stalled and intransigent problems of the city and the tatters of its safety net.
Jacinda sees herself firmly as part of a generation that will not be able to own their own homes and that will count for something. At this point, she conspicuously represents all the ‘youth-adjacent’ generations that have been stripped of many of the fundamental Universal Human Rights.
Parliamentary democracy is in disarray everywhere, the lines and demarcations too compromised by expediency and wealthy donors.
The fight for the basic tenets set out in the 1948 Declaration of Universal Human Rights has to begin with individual people. Everything that reminds us that our human rights are, as the 1948 declaration states, “equal and inalienable” is to be celebrated. • Liz Waters