This week the newly minted Teal Member for Kooyong Monique Ryan gushed on social media about meeting New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and how they discussed the importance of ‘caring for people and place’.
Ms Ardern has built a vast international fan base of adoring left-wing disciples, oozing empathy and ‘girl boss cool’ everywhere she visits.
But those words, ‘caring for people and place’ caught the eye, because if ask a Kiwi you will soon find that Ms Ardern has a rather abysmal record on both.
Let’s start with people because I hope that by caring for people Dr Ryan doesn’t mean New Zealand single mums from working-class backgrounds.
The Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand recently reported on the growing food insecurity faced by single mother households in New Zealand. Mothers distressingly described the ‘significant stress, neglect of personal needs, and missing meals in favour of children’ that has become part of everyday life across the ditch.
With New Zealand’s inflation rate at a 30-year high and annual food inflation at 6.8 per cent – no doubt brought on, in part, by the hard lockdown Covid elimination stance Ms Ardern championed – these mothers will find little reprieve from this doyen of gender equality.
Ms Ardern’s record on place is equally poor. With the promise on coming to power in 2017 to build 100,000 affordable houses in 10 years, five years in, the program has delivered a paltry 1,300 houses. Quite aside from the argument that government should not be housing developers, this is a shocking record of delivery.
Yet despite her failure to deliver, and mounting political headaches at home, Ardern is hailed internationally by the mainstream media as an iconoclastic leader.
Ardern has graced the cover of both Time Magazine and British Vogue. She is the darling of the American late show circuit having appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert four times. International newspapers such as The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, and the local Sydney Morning Herald have fawned over her in their editorials. In fact, the Sydney Morning Herald pleaded, ‘Can we swap for her?’
Yet few, if any, of these articles discuss the impact of her agenda. Rarely do you see a dissertation on how her policies have improved the educational outcomes of children, poverty, home ownership, employment rates, traffic deaths, or health outcomes in New Zealand.
Instead, it is her youth, her education, her empathy, her political style, and most importantly, her womanhood that are the focus hiding the abject failure of her administration.
Ardern doesn’t have to ensure that New Zealand mums can offer their children three square meals a day to be a champion of motherhood. Just turning up at the UN with her baby magically improves the lives of all New Zealand mothers and children around the world.
What Jacinda Ardern represents is a kind of post-material politics – a politics in which ‘who you are’ trumps ‘what you do’.
Like the Teal ladies, Ms Ardern belongs to a new class of women – well-educated and highly ambitious who reside in elite enclaves.
Although an avowed socialist and lifelong Labour activist, Ardern has written the playbook for the Teal movement: post material, style over substance, platitude over plausible policy.
It is the lifestyle brand you are meant to vote for to ensure you are still invited to dinner parties in the leafy inner suburbs. Never mind what may be achieved to improve the life of others.
In effect, when Dr Ryan and Ms Arden use the words ‘people and place’ what they appear to mean is ‘people like us’ and ‘places we hang out at’.
Chetna Mahadik is a Communications Manager at the Institute of Public Affairs
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