Over her term as Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has risen to international stardom based on reporting by world media outlets.
She became Prime Minister at the age of 37 and is one of the world’s first millennials to head a government. She is the second world leader to give birth in office after Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan.
She cited child poverty as her reason for entering politics. When she first ran for Prime Minister, she declared climate change was her ‘generation’s nuclear free moment’. In early 2019, she said that she would promote a new ‘economics of kindness’ which was demonstrated shortly afterwards in her first ‘well-being budget’.
But that so-called ‘wellbeing budget’ didn’t produce much in the way of kindness, given for example that it earmarked funds to fix mental health, but her government has still not found any projects on which to spend the money.
Jacinda Ardern has great expertise in communicating to all different audiences with a highly personalised brand of warmth, kindness and empathy and this helped her get through two major first-term crises, a terrorist attack on the Christchurch Muslim community in March 2019, and the coronavirus crisis.
She was making almost daily TV appearances through the first few months of the coronavirus crisis to update NZ’s population and explain the actions being taken by the government to control the spread of the coronavirus. But in fact our country’s success against Covid-19 was more a result of geography than policy. The huge moat around New Zealand did much more to ensure our safety than the government, which in fact failed to manage even basic quarantine facilities and had to end up calling on the military to achieve the desired result.
This huge level of exposure on almost a daily basis in the run up to the 2020 election must have been of immense help in developing people’s perceptions of how well she was doing in handling the crisis and consequently how effective her government was.
The truth is not quite so rosy though because when you look at the government’s statistics since their election victory in 2017, on practically every single metric her administration has failed.
They promised through their Kiwi-build scheme to build 100,000 homes over a decade but this program was abandoned after two years, and house prices have skyrocketed. They promised to develop a light-rail connection from Auckland’s central business district to the airport and this seems to have met a similar fate before it has even been started.
Child poverty levels have risen under Jacinda Ardern’s leadership, as have carbon emissions. The gun buy-back scheme implemented after the Christchurch mosque attack was nothing short of an expensive PR disaster that actually achieved very little in real results.
In the 2020 election campaign, she should have struggled to explain why her governments promises had failed, but no one asked any accountability questions and she was elected with an absolute majority based on the public perception of her image.
The gap between people’s impression of her leadership and her actual performance as a leader has widened appreciably but her superstar status will not change until the public start demanding accountability for the government promises that have failed.
So, on my scorecard I would have to grade her; A+ for Public Relations and probably the same for effort but in the grade that counts I have to grade her with an F for Results given the almost universal failure on practically every metric.