Bryce Edwards: The Increasing speculation about Jacinda Ardern quitting

Bryce Edwards: The Increasing speculation about Jacinda Ardern quitting

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern flies to Antarctica today, and her media spin doctors will be hoping for some good photo opportunities to lift the leader’s popularity. But they will be asking a lot.

Tomorrow it will be five years since Ardern was sworn in as Prime Minister. At that time she was incredibly popular, and her support kept rising, hitting its heights in 2020.

That tide has certainly turned in recent months, and there are signs that Ardern is headed for a very difficult time as Prime Minister in the near future. Economic and social factors may get much worse. And the prospect of Labour’s popularity declining further is possible, especially as difficult reforms throw up problems. Re-election in 2023 has never seemed more in doubt.

Unsurprisingly, there has been an upswing in speculation about how long Ardern will stay on as leader and prime minister. The idea of her stepping down before the next election is gaining traction, despite there being no obvious candidate in the Labour Party who could do a better job than her.

Labour’s difficult decline

Labour’s post-2020 decline has been due to a number of factors that have made governing difficult. Covid, in particular, shifted from a winning issue, to one throwing up problem after problem that the Government has been blamed for. Then the state of the economy is proving highly damaging, with the cost of living being particularly difficult to navigate. Other Labour policies, from Three Waters to Co-governance, have irritated many who gave Ardern’s party the tick in 2020.

Unfortunately for Ardern and Labour, much of this is likely to get worse over the next year. Part of this is simply a “Covid hangover”, with the consequences of many of the Government’s actions during this time, as well as the Reserve Bank’s money printing, now having a detrimental impact.

Socially and economically, there are some severe outcomes that are building up steam. Law and order is growing as a problem, with some analysis suggesting that this is arising out of some of the social and economic dislocation caused by the pandemic and the lockdowns.

The Government also has a work programme that is turning out to be highly contentious. Big reforms in water, health and education are not working out as smoothly as the government might have envisaged.

Ardern’s own cheerleaders are becoming disillusioned

Ardern will always have her critics. For example, no one will have been surprised that the business community have become deeply disillusioned in Ardern. The latest Herald Mood of the Boardroom survey ranked Ardern as only the 12th best performer in Cabinet. Rating her out of five, the CEOs gave her 2.3. This was down from nearly 4/5 in 2020 – the business community were previously very supportive of her leadership, especially during the Covid period.

However, most crucially, support on the political left for Ardern has also been on the decline. Progressive sectors of society that were highly enthusiastic about Ardern’s leadership early on, seem to have lost faith that she will fulfill her promises about child poverty or climate change.

The narrative of non-delivery hurts Labour and Ardern. Those who might normally tend to be supporters have had to face up to the fact that the Government is very good at talking, but less effective at delivering what has been promised.

Even commentators who might have been relied upon by the Beehive to put forward a positive analysis of Ardern have become much less positive. For example, recently Morgan Godfery wrote about Ardern’s failure of to stick to the policies she believes in or even to state what she believes in. He paints a picture of a poll-driven government without a plan.

He’s also spoken about how Ardern is “missing in action” on the core issues that her voters care about, and fails to translate rhetoric into action. He says supporters are frustrated by the lack of change from a Government that promised “transformation”.

Similarly, Shane Te Pou has criticised his government saying: “Jacinda Ardern’s clear, empathetic communication and crisis leadership has been replaced by government announcements drowning in bureaucratese. Ministers seem to be led by agency work programmes, turning the cogs rather than working to a cohesive vision.”

The sort of policies and progress that might have enthused and mobilised Labour’s own natural support base simply haven’t happened. The failure to make advances on economic inequality, housing – remember Kiwibuild, or the state housing wait list – together with slow or ineffective progress on climate change, means that those on the political left are sometimes the biggest critics of Ardern.

Could Ardern step down in the next six months?

On an election night broadcast in 2020 when Ardern won her historic 50 per cent vote on the back of Labour’s successful Covid response that year, I predicted that Ardern wouldn’t see out the whole term as prime minister. She had already been through so much as leader of the country and, like John Key, would want to go out on a high note rather than lose an election.

Ardern has already missed her chance to leave office with her popularity at a high. Labour’s polling has dropped dramatically from that extraordinary 50 per cent, and is now around the low-to-mid 30s in many polls. Ardern’s own popularity as PM is still relatively high, and way ahead of any other candidate, but it has dipped considerably.

Nonetheless, it might still suit Ardern to get out of politics before things get even worse. For this reason, broadcaster Rachel Smalley has recently written in the NBR that it’s only a matter of time before Ardern steps down.

Smalley argues that Ardern only has two likely outcomes at the next election, neither of which will be attractive to her. The first is that she suffers a defeat, which will further tarnish her reputation. It would therefore be better to go out on her own terms: “She will be an undefeated Prime Minister and the first to achieve a single-party majority government in New Zealand. Her legacy will be tied to two events of significant historical importance: her compassionate, unifying response to the March 15 Christchurch Mosque Attacks and her decision to lockdown the country in March 2020. Those two events, one year apart, showcased Ardern at her best.”

The second likely outcome if Ardern sticks around, is that she will be re-elected but only with difficult coalition partners to manage: “At best, Labour will win but lose its status as a single-party majority government. For three years, Ardern has governed without fear or favour, unchecked by a coalition partner. She will have little appetite to enter a tumultuous third term where she will be held to account by her likely coalition partners – the Greens, Te Pāti Maori or, God forbid, New Zealand First.”

Even under a scenario whereby Ardern’s coalition management of these disparate forces is smooth, the economic and social conditions will be highly challenging for her: “All of the economic and social fallout from Covid will start peaking” and “Jacinda Ardern is not the Prime Minister to lead New Zealand’s fiscal and economic recovery from 2023 to 2026. She knows that. We know that. So I reckon she’ll jump.”

Smalley believes that Ardern’s resignation will be announced before Christmas. And she also points to the recent rule change in the Labour Party which means that a caucus vote of two-thirds in favour can quickly install a new leader without having to go through the expanded party membership and trade union vote. Therefore, Ardern’s trusted close friend Grant Robertson could be put into the top seat immediately. If it is to occur, such a transition would certainly be best to take place well before the next election.

The likelihood of such a big change has divided political commentators. The Herald’s political editor Claire Trevett responded to speculation about Ardern a few days ago, writing that: “as things stand she remains Labour’s best chance in 2023 and is still more popular and trusted than any other leader. I’d be very surprised if she cut and run while that is the case. She and Grant Robertson will be critical.”

But Trevett confirms that the rumours of Ardern stepping down soon are now frequently being put to journalists and the PM.

Trevett has also argued that Ardern can’t afford to leave Labour in the lurch during a time of instability: “At a time of economic and social uncertainty, the worst thing for Labour would be to add political uncertainty onto that bonfire by rushing to the polls or switching leaders.”

The Labour Party annual conference takes place next month, and will be a chance for Ardern and her colleagues to show that the party has some new ideas and momentum. There are so many problems building up steam at the moment, and yet Labour and Ardern look like they have run out of steam and ideas themselves. When this happens, it’s normally a good idea to consider the political exit door earlier than waiting to be pushed out.

 

Dr Bryce Edwards is Political Analyst in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the director of the Democracy Project.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.  

 

Other items of interest and importance today

PARLIAMENT, PARTIES, ELECTION
Kate MacNamara (Herald): Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s role in appointing her young relation to government work (paywalled)
Claire Trevett (Herald): Politics and money: Poll gives a big fat no to taxpayers funding political parties instead of donations
Andrea Vance (Stuff): National and ACT build $5m election war chest, Labour and Greens trail in fundraising
Herald: Peters vs Seymour vs Tamaki – Who will win NZ’s angry vote?
Claire Trevett (Herald): 2023 a snap election? Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stepping down? Not happening (paywalled)
Jack Tame (Newstalk ZB): The big decider for next year’s election
Anneke Smith (RNZ): Women will have equal share of seats in Parliament with Soraya Peke-Mason’s swearing-in
Mike Munro (Herald): What issues will dominate next year’s election? (paywalled)
James Robb: There’s a storm brewing
Thomas Cranmer: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Potholes, and the case for longer terms of government
Claire Trevett (Herald): The Question the PM won’t answer and the names lining up for National next year in Paula Bennett’s old Upper Harbour seat? (paywalled)
Michael Bassett: Chaotic leadership in New Zealand?
Steve Braunias (Herald): The Secret Diary of … Jacinda Ardern (paywalled)
Jem Tralen (BusinessDesk): Govt sets new spending record for contractors and consultants (paywalled)
Stuff: Points of Order: While one MP runs to political oblivion, another runs away from reporters
Phil Smith (RNZ): Trevor Mallard: ‘Humble backbencher of Wainuiomata’
Michael Neilson (Herald): National Party unveils Tāmaki seat challengers to Simon O’Connor
Kiri Gillespie (Bay of Plenty Times): National party Tauranga MP Sam Uffindell tells of his baptism of fire (paywalled)
Victor Billot (Newsroom): An Ode for .. Baron Luxon
Elijah Hill (Stuff): Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer targeted by ‘disgusting’ racist mail

INEQUALITY, WELFARE
Andrea Vance (Stuff): National proposes philanthropy. But they are ignoring an obvious, more efficient way to take care of the poor.
Max Rashbrooke (Stuff): National’s new social plan goes back to the future – but is that a bad thing?’
Newshub: National’s Nicola Willis defends uncosted poverty plan, says philanthropists will want to be part of it
Michael Neilson (Herald): Social investment: Grant Robertson hits back at National’s welfare policy
Anna Whyte (Stuff): National releases ‘bold, new’ social investment approach, Government calls it a ‘rehash’
Newstalk ZB: Green Party: Keeping support for benefits is vital despite falling numbers
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): We already have a fund for rich people to pay for welfare, it’s called a tax system

HAMILTON WEST BY-ELECTION, GAURAV SHARMA
Claire Trevett (Herald): Hamilton West byelection: Who’s lining up for National and Labour – and will it answer National’s diversity problem? (paywalled)
Akula Sharma (Herald): Brian Tamaki’s umbrella party to contest Hamilton West byelection
Adam Pearse (Herald): Trevor Mallard demands resigned MP Gaurav Sharma release full recording of conversation

LOCAL GOVERNMENT, THREE WATERS
Todd Niall (Stuff): As the mayoral election dust settles, which Aucklanders should be listened to?
John Roughan (Herald): Wayne Brown may be the bull in the china shop of New Zealand’s assets (paywalled)
Erin Johnson (Stuff): Prime minister and Auckland mayor disagree halting Three Waters work will increase rates
Shirin Brown (Spinoff): Your local board is currently a hive of deal-making and politicking
Joanne Naish (Stuff): Newly elected Westland councillor resigns after 10 days citing ‘personal beliefs’, prompts by-election
Steven Walton and Tina Law (Press): Who are Christchurch’s six new councillors and what do they want to achieve?
Karanama Ruru (Stuff): The many barriers that stop young people voting in local body elections

ECONOMY, EMPLOYMENT, BUSINESS
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Why do we tax the first $14,000 of income?
Damien Grant (Stuff): Reserve Bank isn’t really serious about tackling inflation
Janet Wilson (Stuff): Inflation’s stubbornness is bad news for Grant Robertson
Herald Editorial: Making the most of the next few months – because it could get tougher(paywalled)
Bridie Witton (Stuff): Labour and National’s competing realities: Is the economy going badly or not?
Liam Dann (Herald): Back to the future – Could we see a repeat of the ’87 crash?(paywalled)
Brian Easton (Pundit): What State Is The Economy In?
Jenny Ruth (BusinessDesk): Reserve Bank’s LSAP outstayed its welcome in financial markets (paywalled)
Herald Editorial: Innovators needed more than ever as economic cloud approaches(paywalled)
Chris Keall (Herald): Why the Govt has abandoned plans for a 5G auction – and a huge windfall (paywalled)
David Farrar: Govt gives away hundreds of millions in corporate welfare to telcos
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Bernard Hickey explains why the NZ Political Economy is doomed and why I love listening to low wage exploiting businesses cry
Steven Cowan: Liz Truss: Centrism is not an alternative to her economic fundamentalism 
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Labour Day is a sick sad joke of a public holiday
Claire Dale (Newsroom): Why are we still waiting for equal pay after 50 years?
Christine Rovoi (Stuff): Human rights watchdog disputes global data on NZ pay gap
Laura Frykberg (1 News): Govt under pressure for mandatory pay gap reporting
Christine Rovoi (Stuff): Greens call for ‘immediate action’ to close pay gap
Andy Brew (Stuff): Struggling RSE contractors turning to foodbanks to feed the workforce
Cameron Smith (Herald): Remote work worth quitting job over, say nearly half of New Zealanders (paywalled)
Gillian Brookes (Stuff): It’s time to shift the conversation and reimagine the next radical idea for our workforce
Andrew Bevin (Newsroom): Unregulated online gambling ‘extremely risky’ for New Zealanders, minister says

HOUSING
Benn Bathgate (Stuff): MSD motels cost Rotorua’s visitor economy $17m in three months, report says
Rayssa Almeida (RNZ): Rotorua is a ‘ghost town’ due to emergency housing crisis, resident says
RNZ: ‘We’re doing the best we can’ – Homeless services struggle with need
Bridie Witton (Stuff): Emergency housing ‘full’ in Wellington as Government faces ‘unprecedented challenge’
Catherine Hubbard (Nelson Mail): Three homeless people on waiting list for housing
Oliver Lewis (BusinessDesk): No commissioners, not even a letter over Christchurch housing defiance (paywalled)
Greg Ninness (Interest): The position of aspiring first home buyers has deteriorated substantially over the last three years

HEALTH
Ian Powell: When lies get caught out by health system truths
Joanne Naish (Stuff): Health’s postcode lottery worse since creation of national health agencies
Ian Powell (BusinessDesk): Health system is in a critical condition and the cure is worse than the disease (paywalled)
RNZ: Health inequities between Māori and non-Māori adults cost $863 million a year study finds
1News: Plans to fix lengthy hospital wait times to be released
Emma Clark-Dow (Stuff): Staff believe doctors’ letter could finally force change at ‘unsafe’ Middlemore
Tom Harris (Spinoff): If you get long Covid, who’s going to help?
Herald Editorial: No one watching third Covid wave (paywalled)

ORANGA TAMARIKI, CHILD WELFARE
Michael Neilson (Herald): MPs emotional in debate over Malachi Subecz’s murder, calls for Oranga Tamariki accountability
Adam Pearce (Herald): Malachi Subecz death: Te Pāti Māori renews calls for minister resignation, mandatory reporting of abuse
RNZ: Malachi Subecz death: Te Pāti Māori claims ‘lacklustre’ response by Oranga Tamariki and minister
Bridie Witton (Stuff): Government under pressure for Malachi Subecz failures, the economy
Olivia Shivas (Stuff): ‘Burn the building down’: Why urgent change is needed at Oranga Tamariki
RNZ: Oranga Tamariki apologises after failing to engage properly on OIA request

JUSTICE
Aaron Dahmen (Newstalk ZB): Revealed: Why Govt wiped tens of thousands of community service work hours
Jamie Ensor and Karen Rutherford (Newshub): Justice Minister Kiri Allan speaks on Jayden Meyer rape case as National calls for inquiry
Tara Shaskey (Rotorua Daily Post): National calls for inquiry into Crown’s handling of teen rapist Jayden Meyer’s sentencing
Herald Editorial: Throwing away the key (paywalled)
Melanie Reid, Bonnie Sumner and Paul Enticott (Newsroom): The Peter Ellis Series: Police, parents, process

ENVIRONMENT
Samantha Motion (Herald): As we hurtle towards climate disaster, are ‘extreme’ protests justified? (paywalled)
David Jenkins (Newsroom): When it’s okay to break the law
Debbie Jamieson (Stuff): West Coast protesters remind prime minister of promise to ban mining
Tony Wall (Stuff): Tūhoe’s governing authority begins removing, burning huts in Te Urewera
David Williams (Newsroom): Inside DoC’s slow ride towards more biking

MEDIA
Newshub Nation: National Broadcasting spokesperson Melissa Lee promises reversal of TVNZ/RNZ merger
Ben Leahy (Herald): National to reverse RNZ-TVNZ merger if voted in, spokeswoman says
Duncan Greive (Spinoff): How the merger of TVNZ and RNZ might accidentally save comedy
RNZ: Sunday Morning: John Campbell: My journey to the history of us

FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Gill Bonnett (RNZ): Plans for ‘deeper collaboration’ and a touchless border for Five Eyes citizens
Anna Whyte (Stuff): Greens call on Government to take harsher stance on Iranian regime
Grady Connell (Today FM): Is incoming UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak bad news for New Zealand?

IMMIGRATION
RNZ: Immigration NZ says internal oversight of Cobwebs Technologies is adequate
Lincoln Tan (Herald): ‘Let down by NZ’: Skilled migrants’ Kiwi dreams dashed by NZ’s Covid border closure

TRANSPORT
Mohammad Alafeshat (RNZ): New $1.3b single payment system for public transport announced
Herald: National public ticketing payment system for buses, trains, ferries to be introduced

ARTS
André Chumko (Stuff): Te Papa’s had the same budget for collecting national treasures for 20 years. There’s no increase in sight.
Joe Bennett (Herald): May the Sheilah Winn Festival survive the Shakespeare funding cuts(paywalled)

OTHER
Chris Trotter (Interest): The scarcely believable tale of professional failure across New Zealand’s education system is something we would not tolerate in any other sector
Charlie Mitchell (Stuff): Why were so many Voices for Freedom people at a farming protest?
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): How a media request led to controversial Australian commentator Avi Yemini being barred entry to New Zealand
Dylan Reeve (Spinoff): What makes a conspiracy theorist?
Katie Harris (Herald): NZ Security Intelligence Service investigated threat posed by incels – ‘involuntary’ celibate men
Liana MacDonald (Stuff): How racism underpins our education system
Stephen Minto (Daily Blog): Winston whines; so a written constitution calls
David Farrar: Ngai Tahu rubbishes claims Maori discovered Antarctica
Listener/Herald: Is religion on the path towards extinction in New Zealand? (paywalled)
John Weekes (Herald): Inside the Defence Force battle for recruits (paywalled)
1News: Air Force begin plans to replace two aging VIP transport planes