June 30th, 2018
These are the kinds of practical arrangements working women make the world over – the novelty here is that it is a prime minister who is making them
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: email@example.com
She nearly doubled the Labour vote, wrangled herself into office with a complex multiparty coalition, and just passed a social democratic budget. Polls have held. The most recent gives her party and one coalition partner, the Greens, enough votes to govern between them. Her personal approval rating is a thumping 76%.
To understand why is to look beyond policy and into her representation of it. What distinguishes Ardern is her active embrace of what Walter Benjamin referred to as “the time of the now” and the diverse and complex identities of a community that no longer sees itself as by, for and of propertied, straight white men. Doing so shatters a traditionalism that imprisons the left even as much as it inspires today’s right.
Ardern is the first elected world leader to ever go on maternity leave. Of this, former NZ Labour prime minister Helen Clark noted: “These are the kinds of practical arrangements working women make the world over – the novelty here is that it is a prime minister who is making them. The signal this sends, however, is that this is life in the 21st century.”
But the insight is enhanced by considering theorist Stuart Hall’s old observation that “Politics does not reflect majorities, it constructs them”. Local NZ commentator, Michelle Duff, lauded the events of Ardern’s maternity as a national achievement, writing, “Let’s just take a moment to appreciate that we, as a nation, have pushed the boundaries and created an environment where this can happen.” Clark said for New Zealand, this was merely “evolution”.
Observe, also Ardern – who is Pakeha, not Maori – meeting the British queen wearing a Kahu huruhuru: a Māori feathered cloak “bestowed on chiefs and dignitaries to convey prestige, respect and power”. It was a demonstration of a status conferred, and not stolen, and a representation of a New Zealand unafraid to show pride in its indigenous past even as it engaged in diplomatic pleasantry with its colonial one.
Little wonder that “the prime minister’s empathy with and interest in the indigenous people of New Zealand (is) improving relations between Pakeha [European] and Māori faster than at any other point in history,” a spokeswoman for Ngati-Haua, of the Tainui federation of tribes, has said.
In this case, the spokeswoman was responding to Ardern’s choice of “Te Aroha” as her newborn’s middle name, which refers both to a mountain where Ardern grew up an a Maori language word for love. “Everybody knows what aroha means,” says Ardern in her baby video. Even though“everybody” doesn’t, every New Zealander certainly does. Ardern’s grasp of the local – from giving birth in a public hospital, to announcing her pregnancy on Instagram – is exemplary. The town of Te Aroha is planning a celebration of their namesake baby’s birth; plans are to paint its buildings pink.