Jacinda Ardern exit interview: Former Prime Minister says fear of losing election didn't lead to resignation, admits thinking standing down might take 'heat out' of debate

Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has told Newshub the prospect of potentially losing at the 2023 election wasn't why she stood down as Prime Minister.

"It wasn't about that for me. No. In 2017, people thought that that was an election where I would lose. I wasn't afraid of that. This decision was solely about whether I was the right person to keep going, given how I was feeling."

But Ardern admits she did think that standing down might take "a bit of heat out" of the debate.

Reflecting on her resignation as the country's leader during an interview with Newshub's Samantha Hayes, Ardern said the Auckland floods and Cyclone Gabrielle that happened weeks after she stood down were a "demonstration" of the events that come the Government's way.

"Having gone through some significant crises alongside New Zealand, you do not know what will come your way, but you have to have enough in reserve to take on whatever it is.

"Yes, I could do the job and I could keep going. But did I have enough in reserve that if another significant event came our way, let alone an election, could I hand on heart say that I was going to be there at 100 percent of my capacity for another three years? I knew casting forward I didn't have that in me."

She said it would have been "disingenuous" to stand at an election when "I just didn't have what I felt it would take for another term". 

But what does she say to those who believe she stood down before she could be voted out?

"If you were afraid of losing, you shouldn't be in politics," Ardern said.

She said she has lost previously - she wasn't successful as Labour's candidate in Auckland Central - but the fear of loss wasn't "a reason to make such a significant decision".

Following Ardern's resignation, Labour began seeing an uptick in political polls. There's been a suggestion that Ardern was a lightning rod for anger and hatred, and was limiting the party's appeal.

Whether she was a red rag to voters is an assessment other people can make, Ardern told Hayes.

She said her experiences with people were far more positive than negative.

"But it did occur to me that actually, my departure might just take a bit of heat out. Was it the basis of my decision? No. But I did believe that that might be one of the consequences of it."

She said she didn't think of it as a "party-political thing". 

"I thought about it is whether or not it would just be good for New Zealand as a whole. I do think that just taking a pause, taking a breath and reminding each other that we're all just humans. If my departure is giving everyone a bit of time to maybe step back from those extreme emotions, that's not a bad thing either."

Some of the anger was most visible during the protest at Parliament last year.

Ardern said that was "extraordinarily difficult".

"If I have a low light, it was that for a group of people to reach that point, that was awful. I don't think I hid that. I found that incredibly hard. I think everyone in this Parliament did, because everyone had worked so hard on unity through COVID."

Watch Samantha Hayes' full interview with Jacinda Ardern above - including Ardern's reflection on her record as Prime Minister.