Jacinda Ardern: Leadership or luck?

Gus Anderson, Editor and Founder of Partisan Journal, discusses Jacinda Ardern’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how much both her supporters and critics should be focusing on her deft ability to govern.

Jacinda Ardern has outshone global leadership when tackling COVID-19. Rewind to 2017, and Ardern was a reactionary nominee in a flagging Kiwi Labour Party. From the eruption of Whakaari to the Christchurch shooting and now COVID-19 – it is clear Ardern has defied all expectations. Prime Minister Ardern has shown global leadership. However, what remains up-in-the-air, is the degree of luck this leadership has entailed. Her critics may call it luck, but I call it genius. 

Embarking on an “overseas experience”, the year of 2005 marked the start of Ardern’s career. Inspired by her childhood upbringing in Murupara, a small town where frequent sightings of “children without shoes on their feet” were commonplace; working for two and half years in the company of Tony Blair marked a turning point. She was now witness to the systemic agenda becoming institutionalised.

While her experiences shaped her political principles, a persona that has galvanised political support has been noticeable. Ardern’s distinguishable acts of kindness, acceptance and inclusion is only a modest representation.  Modest because these traits are only a piece of the wider puzzle that exemplifies Ardern’s leadership she has demonstrated throughout her premiership. One must not diminish her stature through diminishing her ‘attractiveness’ as a political figure via the usual sexist undertones of her being solely a compassionate leader. This must be broadened within the applause of leadership. To be deemed ‘attractive’ may be luck, but it is no luck leading a nation regardless of its favourable geography.

Ardern’s response to COVID-19 has been rigorous to say the least. From the logistics of early lockdown to the more personal invitation of daily televised briefings and Facebook live sessions – Ardern has struck a rigorous but personal cord that other leaders have dodged. Dodged because a personal tone requires empathy that is so far removed from day-to-day politicians, but that is what makes Ardern a leader. Attached to this lies a four-level alert framework that was televised two days before lockdown. As such, empathy and transparency has guided New Zealand through the Corona crisis. While its native neighbours of Australia and the UK have sometimes convoluted lockdown’s severity, New Zealand has had a transparent public health campaign that has been personalised.

Geographical factors may have been beneficial to New Zealand’s ability to have a public health campaign that has been so succinct given its 4.8 million populace. However, what is unique to New Zealand is an empathetic PM whereby real leadership exudes. Empathy and transparency have been the guiding principles of Ardern’s tenure.

It is no luck that New Zealand is emerging victorious from all of the crises it has faced in 2020.

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