Tim Watkin at Pundit wrote:
It’s almost become a truism within political circles, but the cry around Ardern is always, “but what has she done?”. She’s had almost a decade in the House and a string of high profile portfolio responsibilities – from police to vulnerable children and more – and it’s a struggle to point to any impact she’s had either on policy or public opinion in any.
Several other journalists have also pointed to the lack of tangible achievements, so I thought it was worth expanding on this.
Jacinda does have many political skills. She is warm and funny. She is a good communicator. She is smart. She has been a political staffer and knows Parliament. She is comfortable in her own skin, and she is genuine. She is a bit of a policy wonk. She attracts and motivates supporters. And she is the queen of soft media. She is definitely one of the better performing Labour MPs. She is a genuinely nice person.
But after eight years in Parliament, to quote Tim Watkin, “what has she done?”
To answer why so many ask this question, I want to look at three areas – electorate, political and legislative.
Jacinda stood twice in Auckland Central and lost both times. I had to laugh at one media article which said she had always stood in unwinnable seats. Auckland Central was held by Labour for 90 years or so, and the combined left party vote of 46% is greater than seats Labour did win such as Christchurch East, Te Atatu, Rimutaka, Wigram, Palmerston North, Port Hills, Hutt South, West Coast Tasman and Napier.
The current electorate MP, Nikki Kaye, has a huge list of things she has achieved in the electorate. They include:
- Getting Aotea Conservation Park established on Great Barrier Island
- Delivered rural broadband to GBI
- Key role in re-establishing the Pride Parade
- Led a campaign on changing body corporate laws for apartment dwellers
- Helped persuade Mt Albert Grammar to include GBI students in their zone
A former staffer for Len Brown once told me that when most people met the Mayor they had just one issue to talk about. Nikki would front up regularly with 10 to 15 issues.
This is why Nikki beat Jacinda in 2011 and 2014. The electorate knew she had delivered for them.
Now you might say that it is unfair to compare Nikki to Jacinda as Nikki is already the Electorate MP and Jacinda just a List MP. Well let’s look at what Chris Bishop has done in just two years as a List MP in Hutt South:
- Established Hutt City Youth Awards scheme in 2015 to recognise young talent in Hutt
- Successfully campaigned for free parking in the Hutt CBD with local businesse
- Established monthly food truck night in Hutt CBD with local food trucks and Council
- Helped local student organise a Ted-X style Tech Talks event
- Two successful public meetings (Technology Valley and Predator Free), both with standing room only. Tech meeting led to a student tech forum in the Hutt
This is why I believe Chris Bishop will win Hutt South. He has shown that a List MP can be just as effective as an Electorate MP in achieving things. If Jacinda had done what Chris Bishop is doing, Jacinda would probably have won Auckland Central.
Another example is Labour’s Stuart Nash. He won Napier by being all over local issues – he led the fight against amalgamation, against the dam and on police staffing levels.
Now in no way am I saying that Jacinda is not active or hard working locally. She sleeps out for charity, she door knocks, she turns up to all the functions etc. But that is different from actual achievements.
Jacinda has held 11 portfolios including Employment, Social Development, Police, Corrections, Children, Justice and Small Business. In all of them she has been hard working and competent and on top of the issues but she hasn’t really achieved anything, compared to some of her colleagues. For example:
- Kelvin Davis – hugely successful in his campaign on prisons, and also on Australian deportees. Both led to government policy changes.
- Shane Jones – very successful campaign against Countdown on behalf of small suppliers
- Stuart Nash – campaign on petrol prices got Government to do an inquiry. Also helped get Government inquiry into guns.
- Phil Twyford – huge cut through on housing issues
It is in the legislative area that Jacinda has done worse. Her two members’ bills have been shockingly weak. Her first bill on adoption was a press release pretending to be a bill. It merely instructed the Law Commission to go write the real bill and have the Government introduce it. The bill was so bad even the Greens voted against it. It actually undermined the real work done cross party by Kevin Hague and Nikki Kaye who met with all the stakeholders, with law professors, adoption groups and wrote a detailed law reform bill.
Her latest bill is much the same. It is labelled the Child Poverty Reduction and Eradication Bill. It basically sets up a a Child Poverty Reduction Board! That’s it. It’s a sound bite not a serious law.
In no way do I think Jacinda doesn’t care about gay adoption and child poverty. She does. But the consistent pattern in her career has been that she prioritises empathy over effectiveness. She is not alone in this, of course.
Jacinda has said you can’t achieve much in opposition, that you get to make a difference in government. But this is not true. Many other MPs have achieved substantial things as List MPs and/or in Opposition.
Jacinda will become a Minister one day. I stand by my prediction she will become Prime Minister – possibly as early as 2020, if she becomes Leader of the Opposition after this year’s election.
As I said at the beginning Jacinda does have many skills, and she is a good MP who deserved to be on Labour’s front bench. But her record of achievements is very limited for eight years in Parliament. Her challenge is to show effectiveness as well as empathy.
She is now the MP for Mt Albert, so that’s a good place to start.