Opinion: Newshub 2017 Politician of the Year - Jacinda Ardern

jacinda ardern

OPINION: Jacinda Ardern not only defined the election - or the political landscape - she has defined a new era for New Zealand.

The Baby Boomers aren't in charge anymore. The old men in suits are gone, replaced by the interests of a younger generation of Kiwis who've felt shafted by politics for decades.

What makes Jacinda Ardern's rise to power even more astonishing than the speed in which it happened is that she's a reluctant leader - she never put her hand up for the top job during the leadership stoushes of 2011, 2013, or 2014.

When asked by journalists time and time again, her answer was always the same - she didn't want to be leader. Even when she was forced into the deputy leader role, she claimed she had imposter syndrome and would never handle the pressures of being leader.

But she was forced to, being thrust into the leadership spotlight like some kind of divine spiritual saviour - whether she wanted it or not.

Her rise to power was the result of desperation from a party languishing in the polls. She was the last resort to save the party from political collapse in an election only seven weeks away.  

I don't think anyone dreamed that in the space of those seven weeks, she would not only save the party, but take it to a position where it could form a Government.  

It wasn't just a rise to power - it was a supersonic surge.

But it hasn't been without hurdles and botch-ups along the way. Her insistence to form a 'Tax Working Group' plagued her entire campaign, and she failed to allay fears that she'd impose new taxes on hardworking Kiwis and their homes.  

It forced her to ease back from the policy in the last weeks of the campaign - but the damage had been done.

Then was the promise of a water tax, which riled farmers and confused voters, and she earned the nickname 'Taxinda'.  

The furore over the imaginary $11.7b hole in Labour's finances was poorly managed too. As was the failure to shut down National's constant claims she would increase income tax.

While she did eventually call out both of these claims as the lies they were, it came too late. She let the lies simmer away in the minds of voters, instead of nipping them in the bud.

The sheer magnitude of Jacinda Ardern's popularity exposed some serious shortcomings in Labour's management - they were so out of practise and not used to having a leader constantly in hot demand.

It meant running a smooth and slick campaign was out of the question. Everything was changeable, decisions were made on the hoof and it really didn't look like the party was ready to govern.

However, Jacinda Ardern's personal performance hid much of that from the public and since becoming Prime Minister, her performance has become more and more solid.

She united two political foes - NZ First and the Greens - and formed a Government with them both. That's no easy feat.

She has to work closely with Winston Peters as her Deputy Prime Minister - that's no easy feat either.

This won't last forever, though. The honeymoon period will end.

The true scale of what her Government has promised will hit home and the task of delivering will be a constant thorn in her side.

Her Government has to build and deliver thousands of affordable homes, it has to spend billions fixing the health system, eradicate poverty, plant a billion trees, re-enter Pike River Mine and get National onside for a legally binding carbon-neutral goal.

She has to keep the finances together and just as importantly, keep her coalition together.

And then there's dealing with what she can't control - doubt from everyone on a daily basis that she's too young or too inexperienced, or in over her head, or that her gender means she's less capable, or that she should be having children, or should be married.

The list goes on.

Jacinda Ardern is not only managing a difficult coalition that's rolling out radical changes quickly, she's doing so in the face of adversity, whether it's everyday sexism or ageism, or just pure nastiness, like being called a "pretty little communist".   

While she's a reluctant leader, she's also a natural leader. Seeing her in action, she's comfortable, empathetic, decisive and can be steely when she needs to be.

Most importantly, she's popular and genuine.

But the path ahead isn't an easy one to navigate. The seas will get rough, the storms will come and go, and they will test her like never before.  

But that's in the future. This story is about 2017 and her journey from list MP to Prime Minister in just eight months.

It will go down in history as one of the cleanest and monumental political ascensions in global democracy.  

She woke up on New Year's Day as a list MP. By February 25, she was the MP for Mt Albert.

Four days later, she became deputy leader. Five months after that, she became leader.

And just over two months after that, she was sworn in as Prime Minister.

It's incredible, whatever way you look at it.


It's been a year of upheaval and tumultuous change in New Zealand politics.

Election years are always brutal, but 2017 stands out as being relentlessly turbulent, with unexpected bombshells at every turn.

When Parliament kicked off at the beginning of this year, the Labour leader was Andrew Little and his deputy was Annette King.

The Green Party had a solid and stable co-leader in Metiria Turei and Peter Dunne had no desire to quit.

Prime Minister Bill English looked like he would cruise through the election and secure a fourth term for National, and there was no indication the Māori Party would lose Waiariki.

In just a matter of months, all of that turned on its head. All of those people in those roles would be gone in one way or another, and the reins of power would be taken over by a reluctant 37-year old.

In January, no one predicted Jacinda Ardern would be Prime Minister, flanked by Winston Peters as her deputy and by a Turei-less Green Party that only just survived the election.

Or that Bill English would be Opposition Leader (again) or that Peter Dunne would unexpectedly quit before the election, citing "a mood for change", or that the Māori Party would be gone entirely.

Dreams were shattered this year. It left an emotional wreckage of former MPs, who hadn't finished what they started or weren't ready to go.

Thirty-two MPs left Parliament and 32 fresh faces replaced them.

Change was a winner of 2017.

andrew little

It takes a lot to admit failure to yourself. It takes a whole lot more to admit failure as a political leader to your peers, your party and the entire country, just seven weeks from an election.

While Andrew Little will go down as yet another failed leader of the post-Helen Clark Labour Party, he will go down in many ways as the saviour.

He put his vanity and stubbornness aside for the sake of the party, and gave them a gift called 'Jacindamania'.

He's now one of the Government's top ministers, and is tackling some big issues like Pike River, Nga Puhi and the spy agencies.

bill english

Bill English got back up again and while it wasn't quite enough to keep his party in government, it was significant on a personal level.

New Zealand also got to see the real Bill English - the father, the fighter, the funnyman.  

He reinvented himself during the 2017 campaign, blossoming from 'Boring Bill' into 'Energetic English'.

It took a while for that flower to emerge, but it began to blossom during the Newshub Leaders Debate, which was nearly too late.

The man who stood behind that lectern was a different man to the demure and docile Bill English from the beginning of the campaign.

It was a completely different man to the 2002 Bill English, who fought and failed.

james shaw

James Shaw had a phenomenal campaign for all the wrong reasons, and it's testament to his patience, nerve, composure and leadership that the Greens are still in Parliament.

He lost his political partner in crime a few weeks out from polling day in a firestorm of the party's own making that saw frustration ignite internal divisions and public infighting plunge the Greens below 5 percent in the polls.  

It was a true mayday situation. James Shaw was the helmsman of a ship taking on water and shedding crew in the middle of an unforecasted cyclone.

The Greens were not used to rough seas. They weren't adept to scandal.

They were used to being the sensible, united and disciplined party that contrasted the years of Labour's continuous leadership benders.

So when the political cyclone hit, the party imploded. James Shaw did not.

He hung on and steered the Greens to smoother waters, and saved it from sinking into political oblivion.

Not only did he survive to tell the tale, but he got the Greens into Government for the first time ever.

winston peters

Special Mention: Winston Peters

Love him or hate him, you have to be impressed with what Winston Peters continues to achieve.

He blamed the media for ignoring him, for keeping him out of debates and being biased - but he survived.

He lost his Northland seat, the NZ First party's vote dropped and someone leaked details about his decade-long pension overpayment - but he survived.

He ended up holding all the cards as king/queenmaker.

He ended up choosing the government.

And he ended up as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

Go figure.

Lloyd Burr is a Newshub political reporter.