Following the New York Times‘ hard-hitting exposé on Jacinda Ardern, Danyl Mclauchlan reports that life isn’t all trips down the road or chasing ducks in the park with her ragtag bunch of mischievous friends.
New Zealand – or, as the locals good-naturedly call it, HairyMaclaryLand – is a small, adorable little nation state all tucked up and snuggly in the warm blue blankets of the South Pacific ocean. It’s a land of sleepy houses and cute little streets and rascally puppies and friendly dairies. A dairy is the word the locals good-naturedly use to refer to a mega-mall.
The new leader of this pert-nosed, tail-wagging country is 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern. Or, as the locals good-naturedly call her, Jacindary Ardernary from Mt Albert’s Fernery. Jacindary is a tall, striking woman with a glowing pelt and soft, silky paws. When she meets me in her Beehive office, she’s joined by her partner Clarke Gayford, who fixes me with his liquid brown eyes and then runs around the office, sniffing the corners and jumping up on the furniture in excitement until Jacinda orders him into the other room.
Since being elected in what I assume was a unanimous landslide, Jacinda has captured the hearts of all of New Zealand. But life isn’t all trips down the road or chasing ducks in the park with her ragtag bunch of mischievous friends! Jacinda has serious challenges to face.
The most sinister of these is her political rival, Simon Bridges, a Trump-like monster who most New Zealanders fearfully refer to as Scarface. Bridges probably has sharp jagged teeth, and razor-like claws, and his features are doubtless disfigured by the many battles I suppose he’s fought in the stinking, shadowy alleyways of Tauranga.
But Jacinda is more than capable of facing him down. She’s not just an adorable animal with firm haunches and magnificent teeth. She’s also a mother and a tough, principled politician who’s taken uncompromising stands on both rainbows and strawberry ice cream, both of which, she warns me, will be threatened if Bridges ever seizes power. “As a mother,” Ardern explains to me carefully at our meeting, “I believe passionately about the future.”
Before I can press her for details, one of Jacinda’s media advisors skips into the room. There’s a short, whispered, urgent conversation. I catch the phrases: ‘Ministerial resignation’ and ‘dump the story,’ and ask what’s wrong.
“Um,” Jacinda hesitates and her advisor tells me, “A… a juicy bone has resigned. I mean, gone missing.”
“Really?” My eyes widen in shock that such a terrible thing could happen in New Zealand.
“That’s right,” Jacinda confirms. “A really thoughtless, stupid bone.” The two of them laugh in a way that might sound mirthless to those who don’t know the innocent creatures of New Zealand as well as I do.
“It must have been Scarface Bridges,” I exclaim. “Are you going to call the police?”
“Oh we don’t have police here,” Jacinda corrects me. ‘We just have sheepdogs with bow-ties.” We laugh at my mistake, and she rolls her eyes at her press secretary the way all New Zealanders do when they want to express their deep respect and admiration for a third party in a conversation.
We continue our chat, and Jacinda astonishes me with the depth of her insights about how much she cares for children and animals, but all too soon there’s yet another interruption. The life of a political leader is hectic, even if you’re only leading a dainty, charming magical country and not a real one!
“The Māori caucus is here to see you, Prime Minister,” an aide explains.
Although I’m an expert in New Zealand ways, I’m always keen to fill the blank spots in my knowledge. “What’s a Māori?” I ask, eager to learn more about this magical little country where nothing bad has ever, ever happened.
“Ah crap,” Jacinda replies, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Māori are…” she waves her other hand.
“Talking birds,” the press secretary explains.
“Yeah, they sing magical songs,” Jacinda adds, “And, um…”
“Wow!” I exclaim. “Really?”
“Sure,” Jacinda shrugs, rolling her eyes again. “Why not?”
I’m not allowed to meet the Māori and stroke their magnificent plumage – they’re too bashful and shy, Jacinda explains, so I’m bustled out of her office and escorted back to the floor of the Beehive, a charming steel and concrete structure which the locals believe is the source of all the happiness and magic that flows over this land. On our way out we pass a large group of what look like journalists, clustered together in a way that seems like they’re covering a breaking news story.
“That’s what we call a media scrum,” my escort explains. “That’s just a thing our journalists do when there’s absolutely nothing embarrassing or destabilising happening to the government.”
“What a quaint little custom,” I exclaim, but I’m hurried past. Fortunately, I have the real story about this country and its leader. I’m lead outside, into the sun, which the locals, goodnaturedly, in honour of its light and warmth, refer to as Jacinda.