She is hotly tipped as a future Prime Minister, but Auckland MP Jacinda Ardern tells sociologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert that having children and a life is more important.

This article was originally published in August 2016.

Jacinda Ardern's office is dimly lit. Her PA would later tell me it's calming but I feel anything but calm.

I have rushed to Ardern's office to get there by 9:30am to spend a day with her, and I ­arrive uncomfortably hot. Removing my jacket reveals an unironed shirt.

Don't worry about that, we're a rough old bunch in here, she says, standing there impeccably dressed. On its third leader in Opposition and mired in the polls, I might say the only thing in rough shape is her Labour ­Party.


Ardern is seen by many as a future leader and I want to know if that's true.

Her early years were in Murupara, a town famous for the Tribesmen gang and little else. Ardern's dad was the ­local cop and the family lived in front of the police station.

One night the house was pelted with bottles. Another time a barefoot ­Ardern snuck out the back fence and came across her dad being confronted by some heavy dudes. Keep walking, ­Jacinda, keep walking, her dad said.

The bloke who lived next door hanged himself and the family baby­sitter turned yellow from hepatitis C. When Ardern's older sister was beaten up at school one day, the family packed up and moved to Morrinsville.

Ardern's first appointment arrives at 10am - an MA criminology student from Victoria University who is a little nervous but Ardern welcomes her like a friend and puts her at ease.

The student asks direct questions about cannabis and gets equally direct responses: Does Labour believe in drug reform? Yes.

More than for just medical purposes? Yes.

You won't hear Labour making too much noise about drug policy, though.


"It's not important enough and too ­controversial." Reform is inhibited by "the public and politics - if you weren't worried about those you'd simply look at the evidence and things would be simple".

Later I ask her if now she is hanging in hip circles - she once played a DJing gig at the Laneway music festival - ­whether she has smoked dope. "I was once a Mormon and then I wasn't, that's how I'll put that."

Good grief. A Mormon?

Jacinda Ardern with her her partner, Clarke Gayford. Photo / Norrie Montgomery
Jacinda Ardern with her her partner, Clarke Gayford. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

The Church of the Latter Day Saints is founded on disappearing gold tablets found in upstate New York in the early 19th century that were translated into 17th-century-sounding old English by Joseph Smith. It gives every indication of being the most ridiculous of all the main churches. Certainly, Mormonism is not known for its liberal views on drugs, or much else for that matter.

Something had to give.

For Ardern, it was her belief and ­support of gay marriage. She has never spoken to her dad about her ­emancipation in 2005 but her mum was "very disappointed". Mums always are.


But if God was angry she left the church, he hasn't troubled himself to do much about it.

Ardern's political career has gone from strength to strength. In 2008, she became the president of the International Union of Socialist Youth, before entering Parliament the same year as number 20 on the Labour Party list. At that time, she was New Zealand's youngest-ever sitting MP.

The MA student leaves and we make our way down to Ardern's second appointment, a function in the Beehive in support of 26 weeks' paid parental leave. All the political ­parties are represented except Act and National, who were soon to sink the ­policy.

Although that particular legislation was put forward by her colleague Sue Moroney, issues around children are at the heart of Ardern's politics.

"I'm all about the kids."

She has a ­private member's bill, which is ­basically the groundwork for Labour's policy around child poverty.


"I think it's quite significant but I would, wouldn't I?"

But the hope of having a bill drawn for the ballot is not much to show for years in Parliament.

"I'm absolutely clear about my ­ambition to be Minister of Children." That, she says, is where she can make a difference.

And what about leader of the Labour party? No, she says. Which is exactly what all people who want to be leader say.

I don't believe her. I'll get to the bottom of that, I think to myself.

In 2014 she came within a whisker of being deputy leader to Grant Robertson. Despite having majority MP support, their bid to run the party was scuttled by the unions who backed Andrew Little.

Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern at Parliament. Photo / Getty Images
Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern at Parliament. Photo / Getty Images

Ardern and Robertson entered politics together. Robertson was nominated first among non-MPs in Wellington. "I won't accept a nomination until Jacinda Ardern is on the list as well," he told the membership.

It's a remarkable and rare piece of selflessness and it speaks of the regard in which ­Ardern is held. ­Robertson told me: "She deserved it. It felt like the right thing to do."

At midday we head out for lunch with the New Zealand Book Council and on the way discuss our dinner plans. I hear her say she's doing "junk food month", but what she actually said was, "junk-free".

You can be in charge of making the booking, I say.

The Book Council gives a presentation on its activities. I chew on a ham roll and ponder the artless nature of its office space while Ardern interjects with questions and observations with facts - all without notes.

At 2pm we pop down to Phil Twyford's office where a group has gathered to discuss homelessness. There are problems getting agreement on making a film clip on rough sleepers. Some are concerned filming homeless people might be exploitative. I'm picking that isn't among the top concerns of rough sleepers. Ardern will get key players ­together to draft some ideas.


We return to her office and she rings somebody at the Auckland Council whom she has left a couple of messages for.

I raise my eyebrows; people don't return your calls? I assumed she was one of the few people who are recognisable by just one name, like Adele, ­Oprah and Marx.

It's not her name but her looks that garner the most attention. The race for the Auckland central between her and National's Nikki Kay was labelled the "battle of the babes" by some media. There were howls of indignation when rugby league ­legend ­Graham Lowe called Ardern on ­morning TV a "pretty little thing".

None of those howls were from ­Ardern. "I didn't think it was a big deal. It just exploded around me. I thought the response he got was disproportionate."

One thing that will make a big difference to Labour is people no longer tolerating National.

Although she understands Lowe's flippant comment - as one understands a drunken uncle stumbling around at a family function - she draws a line at work.

The only time Ardern was even slightly negative towards anyone was in explaining an incident with four-term National MP Craig Foss.


I look up the Parliament transcript: Ardern asks about small-business funding in last year's budget. Foss responds, "I welcome the member's megawatt smile and sparkling brown eyes."

Comments about her looks lead to questions of "political credibility", which is frustrating, she says.

Furthermore, because she still sees herself as the "acceptable nerd" she was at high school, it's at odds with the image people have of her. "Lattes in Ponsonby seem farcical to me. I love where I live [in Auckland] and I love my ­community but it's not where I come from and it's not how I feel."

At 4pm two young students are scheduled to interview Ardern for their high school newspaper. A filibuster by National means she is in the House when they arrive. I accompany them down to watch proceedings.

Is this the first time you've interviewed a politician, I ask? It sure is, they say. This is my second so I feel immediately comfortable. They don't seem the slightest bit intimidated and they are ­excited to meet one of the few ­politicians who is relatable to the young.

Ardern is aware of this and is ­generous with her time for a reason. At their age, she was at Morrinsville High ­attempting to "turn debating into something as serious as 1st XV rugby" when she was awoken to politics.


There's a woman on the phone for you, her mother said one morning.

"Hello, Jacinda, it's Marilyn Waring here."

Ardern had contacted Waring - an MP whose principled convictions tipped over former Prime Minister Rob ­Muldoon - for a school project by looking her up in the White Pages and leaving her a message. The return call had impact. "Her generosity meant an amazing amount to me."

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern at home. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Labour MP Jacinda Ardern at home. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Back in her office, the students lean in, hanging off Ardern's every word - and there are many of them. She talks to the young women as she does to everybody. She is what she is. It does mean, however, the students get a long and detailed interview - more than they could ever possibly use. I wonder what influence she will have on the girls and if Marilyn Waring went on a bit, too.

At dinner we order a bottle of wine. She drinks one glass, I drink the rest.
Your party really is in rut, isn't it?

"I think parties win office as much as governments lose office, so one thing that will make a big difference to Labour is people no longer tolerating National.


"That is not to say that Labour is ­powerless or that we are passive ­recipients in whatever happens in the political cycle, but I do think it is reality. It is as much what they think of them as it is what they think of us."

She says Labour will tackle issues that matter to people, like house prices. "First, a state building programme for affordable homes for first buyers and second, dampening down demand which means a ban on overseas foreign investors."

And child poverty. "We can't imply that it's about drug-criminal parents who don't look after kids properly." ­National is targeting at-risk kids, but "if you have a high priority on children, what is wrong with having a range of services that are about every child?"

Over dessert she talks about crime and the need for a criminal cases ­review commission: "The Teina Pora case ­bothered me on a number of levels."

But the person to set these policies in motion is Andrew Little- whom she ­believes the electorate will be excited by when they get to know him.

And if they don't, the next leader won't be her. She doesn't want to work the ridiculous hours, she doesn't want the acute spotlight of media scrutiny and having recently moved in with her partner, Auckland media personality Clarke Gayford, she wants to have kids.


She can have these things as an MP but not as the leader of a party. Sure as heck not as Prime Minister.

It's a very human answer.

In a political environment domin­ated by politicians speaking as though everything is vetted by focus groups, here's an answer with no spin, no ­attempt to make it sound selfless or ­heroic. Just a person talking through an important decision.

She's smart, she's honest, she's down to Earth and she was damn easy to spend the day with.

At just 35, Jacinda Ardern has the possibility of a long career ahead of her in politics.

She won't be the next Labour Prime Minister but maybe, just maybe, she could be the one after that.