Yesterday’s announcement of the prime minister’s resignation might best be described as shocking but unsurprising. A legacy of a prime minister will now take form and the race to replace her will begin, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday morning, sign up here.
What actually happened yesterday?
I think Ben McKay of the Australian Associated Press summed up the vibe yesterday by tweeting “Journalists and Labour MPs went to Napier expecting an election date. They got the retirement of prime minister Jacinda Ardern”, and then “incredible day. one I’d like to live again without filing deadlines.” That sense of discombobulation was perfectly exemplified by hearing current and former RNZ Morning Report hosts, Corin Dann and Guyon Espiner, on the radio last night driving home. What even was the time? If you are looking to catch up, The Spinoff’s Stewart Sowman-Lund absolutely wrecked his keyboard on live updates as yesterday unfolded, while Toby Manhire provided a speedy summary and analysis. Newsroom’s Marc Daalder also has a lovely account of the press conference.
Jacinda Ardern never wanted to be prime minister
On one hand, we have the political context and the frenetic spinning of wheels about what happens next to consider. On the other, the cultural and historical weight of Ardern’s resignation that bookends a specific era and that I think reveals something about the changing nature of political careers and the legacy of John Key’s resignation. News environments don’t really allow a lot of time for absorbing the latter but Spinoff editor and author of “Jacinda Ardern: A New Kind of Leader”, Madeleine Chapman, has a thoughtful and informed perspective this morning headlined “Jacinda Ardern never wanted to be prime minister”. The Herald’s Vera Alves has also latched onto a relatable sentiment with her opinion piece “I cannot believe Jacinda Ardern didn’t quit earlier”.
So what happens next?
It’s hard to imagine the Labour party wanting anything but a very clean transition. They remain the disciplined caucus of the last five and a half years. Given the party’s current polling, a protracted and public battle would not help matters. But a new leader must be found and this is still someone’s opportunity for a shot at the job. A vote will be taken on Sunday and if two thirds of the caucus agree, it’s a done deal. If that doesn’t happen, it will go to the wider party membership. The Herald’s Audrey Young (paywalled) thinks Grant Robertson should reconsider his decision to not stand as leader. For what it’s worth, Robertson categorically ruled that out a while ago, as detailed in Madeleine Chapman’s 2021 profile for North and South. Failing that, Young thinks Chris Hipkins is the next logical successor. Unofficial official odds have Hipkins out in front. Kiritapu Allan also is being talked about, perhaps with the support of Labour’s Māori caucus and Michael Wood, mentioned in the past as a potential leader, would have good union support if the vote went beyond caucus and to the wider membership and affiliated organisations.
A rare leader and a mixed legacy
I think it’s a bit early to begin summarising Ardern’s legacy in a way that will hold water for years to come but I have a slow processing speed and history is being written now. Ardern’s most immediate and short term legacy is the setting of the election date: October 14. The Guardian’s Tess McClure has a very good analysis that captures the complexity of Ardern’s tenure – both her strengths and the areas in which she struggled to make headway. Stuff’s Kate Newton and Felippe Rodrigues have looked at data on some key indicators that shape Ardern’s time as prime minister. I will say that despite my documented opposition to people asking Ardern to DJ and my very rational arguments as to why she may not want to do that anymore, her resignation does free up her schedule for Laneway. I also enjoyed this career suggestion from the Whakataki Times.