History will record Jacinda Ardern as one of the country’s greatest prime ministers.
It doesn’t mean she actually was one of the greatest. In fact, I could mount a strong argument for why she was one of the worst.
But history doesn’t record the truth. History records a version of it. And that version, in all likelihood, will wax lyrical about her greatness.
Mostly, it will record her as Jacinda the Great, because she was Jacinda the Global Superstar.
Kiwis are disproportionately impressed by global attention. We love it. It soothes our small-country inferiority complex.
We loved David Lange’s Oxford debate. We loved John Key hobnobbing with Barack Obama. And we loved Jacinda featuring on the cover of Vogue. Even if we hated it, we secretly loved being talked about.
Some of Jacinda’s global stardom was earned. Having a baby in office was a special and unusual thing, evidenced by the fact she is only the second female PM in the world to have done that. Embracing the Muslim community after the mosque shootings deserved praise too. Any other Kiwi leader might have also done it had they been in office, but she did it well. It played to her empathetic strength.
Some of her stardom, though, was just the coincidence of timing. She just happened to be the PM at the very moment something happened that hadn’t happened for more than 100 years. A new virus swept the planet.
Sure, any PM of New Zealand would probably have also shut the borders and ordered lockdowns. It’s not as if either idea was dreamt up in NZ. We were following Australia’s actions for the most part.
But you can’t argue the world would’ve been as captivated by us had someone else been in charge.
And that is enough, really, to guarantee Jacinda a place as one of the greats.
Of course, right now that’s hard for some to see. Some still carry a lot of anger towards Jacinda whether for vaccine mandates or Auckland’s too-long lockdowns or a litany of other stupid ideas she needs to own. The ill-timed immigration clampdown that’s strangling businesses. The wild spending that helped drive up inflation. The lending rules that drove down house prices. The economy’s in a parlous state because of decisions her government took.
Cunningly, Jacinda left the job before she could be punished at the ballot booth for what she did. She left even before the recession her government helped cause was confirmed. She’s left behind no achievements worth mentioning.
But time will move on. We will slowly pick up the pieces. And we will forget this anger.
And future generations who fete her will not understand why their parents and grandparents might scoff at her name. Because the left writes history and history will be kind to her, and their parents will just be old-fashioned grouches.
The list of the greats is littered with Labour leaders you could argue don’t deserve the spot.
David Lange, fondly remembered as a great, but for what? For a good debate, a jolly nature and a clever turn of phrase. But his government wasn’t a good one. To some, his government went too far with the pain it inflicted. To others, it lost its nerve at the last minute and didn’t finish the job.
Norm Kirk. Most famous for dying in office.
Mickey Savage. The man who started the welfare system, which is a helpful net to some but to others has become the biggest failure in New Zealand: an intergenerational trap of misery.
Prime Ministers don’t have to be great to be remembered as one of the Greats. They just have to be remembered. Jacinda will be.
Heather du Plessis-Allan Drive, Newstalk ZB, 4pm-7pm, weekdays.