New Zealand was delivered a Prime Minister in waiting this week, in the form of Jacinda Ardern. The unassuming battler from Murupara was announced as the uncontested new leader of the Labour Party, stepping into shoes that realistically haven't been adequately filled since they were worn by the formidable Right Honourable Helen Clark.
I should begin by disclosing that Jacinda is my friend. But that's not why I stand in her corner, cheering her on. I believe that she is absolutely ready to be Prime Minister. I believe she's the right Prime Minister for the time.
Why? She is a big-picture thinker; intelligent and well informed, with strong views about the kind of country New Zealand should be - namely, one where everyone has a fair chance to make a go of things. A nation where kids have roofs over their heads (and not the roofs of cars) and families can afford the basics they need to live with a basic level of dignity.
That's not the New Zealand we have now.
I believe she's the one to change that. As she's ably demonstrated in response to some of the more sexist questions she's faced this week, she's not afraid of a challenge. She's quite capable of standing up for what she believes in, fielding tough lines of inquiry and putting people in their place when they step out of line. Always with a respectful firmness that implies finality.
Jacinda is not the kind of person who tramples over anyone standing in her way to get what she wants. Her aspiration has always been to be the Minister for Children, not the Prime Minister. Now that PM has become a possibility, however, it seems she's exactly where she should be. In Jacinda, New Zealand would find a Prime Minister who stands up for what is right and honourable, who listens and cares, topped with a considerable dose of charisma.
She's quick to humour. She possesses the kind of wry wit that makes you snort unexpectedly into your glass. Next to the straight-laced Bill English, she may as well be a stand-up comedian. Commentators like Mike Hosking will of course splutter that people should vote for policy over personality, but just as John Key was known as the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with - a factor that had quite a bit to do with his electoral success - Jacinda is the kind of woman you just can't help liking.
She's given the Left its mojo back, as evidenced by the more than $300,000 in donations that poured into the Labour Party coffers in the 48 hours after she became leader. Everyday Kiwis have reached into their pockets to hand over hard-earned cash because she's given them someone to believe in.
As for her flaws? She's frustratingly well-read, which makes it difficult to win a debate against her. She's also 37, which some will see as a flaw, but I beg to differ. After all, generations of older leaders have done a great job of near destroying the planet.
And as for whether she plans to have babies ...
Sorry, I had to pause for a moment there to forcibly stop my eyeballs from careering wildly about in my skull, so overworked has my eye-roll reflex been this week.
Leaving aside for a second the completely inappropriate, sexist and, as the Human Rights Commission pointed out, illegal nature of the question, the thing that has been entirely lost in the maddening debate over Jacinda's uterus is that a significant percentage of the population the Prime Minister is elected to represent gestate and give birth to children. A large number of them have done so while being required to be superwomen at home and at work.
When Jesse Mulligan and Mark Richardson spouted questions that were surely transported via timewarp from the 1970s, I thought of my own mother. As the owner of a small business, she was back at work two days after I was born. Kiwi women have been having babies and keeping the economy running throughout history.
When Bill English ran for Prime Minister last time, with "six kids under 16", was the media concerned? No. Because they automatically assumed that his wife (a successful GP in her own right) would take care of them. I shouldn't have to point out that any hypothetical baby of Jacinda's would have another parent.
The only relevant point in this frustrating conversation is the rather obvious fact that work structures were built by men for men and as a result often make life difficult for working mothers. To which I'd say that the more leaders who understand this conundrum, the better. Maybe, if enough women rise to positions of power, we may finally be able to update and refresh stale old systems that don't serve our modern society anymore.
But enough about reproduction.
What we should instead be focusing on is the fact that for the first time in three terms, politics just became exciting. Labour is in with a chance. A thoroughly modern leader has emerged to tackle our modern challenges, in a world that demands forward thinking and new ideas.
The decisions Jacinda makes will be informed by the likelihood that she will live to see the impact they'll have. She has no ego. She understands and excites young voters, who make up a significant portion of the "missing million". She has conviction - as she demonstrated when she left the Mormon Church over an unresolvable impasse about LGBTQ+ rights. She's from both rural and urban New Zealand. She has a strong Maori deputy leader beside her. She's got energy, passion, and people relate to her.
She's also had more years of Parliamentary experience than John Key and David Lange had when they became Prime Ministers.
I've no doubt that she is ready. The question is whether Aotearoa is ready to embrace the future.