Should Jacinda Ardern be leading the Labour Party instead of Andrew Little? Is there truth to Annette King’s allegations that she was a victim of ageism and sexism? These are some of the most interesting questions asked in the commentaries about Labour’s deputy leadership changes this week.

Jacinda Ardern's sudden rise to replace Annette King as deputy leader of the Labour Party has generated an enormous amount of discussion and debate. Here's a list and summary of some of the most interesting and insightful items from the last few days.

1) Labour should make Ardern leader now (paywalled).

That's the provocative title and argument of Matthew Hooton's NBR column today. Hooton predicts that Ardern's popularity will only continue to rise, but he doesn't see the same happening for her party or Andrew Little. Hence, he concludes, "Better for Labour to take the bold step now than be forced by events to take it even closer to the election on September 23."

On the question of whether Ardern has enough political substance, Hooton says this is virtually irrelevant in terms of her potential: "as John Key has taught us so well, being utterly devoid of policy substance is no barrier to political success in New Zealand".


Hooton also makes a rather progressive case for Ardern to be leader, and even prime minister, despite her publicly stated desire to start a family: "is it really true in 21st century New Zealand that someone can't be leader of the opposition or prime minister and start a family? Even in 1980s Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto started a family while serving as leader of the opposition and prime minister.

Can it really be Ms Ardern and Labour's position that 21st century New Zealand is less progressive than 20th century Pakistan? Moreover, how strongly could Labour argue it had the interests of young families at heart if no less than the prime minister herself was sharing the same challenges they do, both at home and at work? It would be the next natural step in the New Zealand story of emancipation that we celebrate on our $10 note."

2) What part did ageism and sexism play in Annette King's demise?

The Listener's Jane Clifton believes they were central. She argues King should be have been leader rather than dumped, and the fact that she isn't is down to sexism: "That she didn't put herself forward despite being so obviously qualified may be another sign of our chronic workforce imbalance and the distance women still have to travel before being promoted and paid equally to men" - see: Annette King - and Jacinda Ardern - deserved better than this.

Clifton praises King: "She was an effective minister and a lively communicator, but also a warm personality who would likely have had a readier reach into New Zealanders' consciousness than the robotic Phil Goff, the hesitant and stumbling David Shearer, the smug and distrusted David Cunliffe and the permanently grumpy-seeming Little."

Clifton says that the episode "sends an appalling signal to older women in the workforce about how poorly they're valued" and laments the triumph of "ambitious and younger men" over King.

But Clifton also seems to be a fan of Labour's new deputy: "Ardern's style is to talk about policy inequities without always seeking to personalise them"; she's not a "hungry self-promoter", as she infers "Stuart Nash and Kelvin Davis" may be.

3) If King had been an older male politician would she have been replaced?


King was definitely a victim of sexism according to Gordon Campbell, who argues that many National ministers only survive due to their gender: "If they were women, they would have been laughed out of Cabinet long ago, or would never made it there in the first place" - see: On Ardern's ascension & Trump's triumph.

Campbell laments that the focus on Ardern is still on her looks, and says "it's about time we cut the crap about Jacinda Ardern being only a show pony. Yet here we are in election year 2017 and the likes of Matthew Hooton can still be heard on RNZ this week claiming that Ardern, quote, 'campaigns on her looks' unquote." And he says: "Let's hope Labour won't timidly try to package Ardern so that she looks 'credible' to the Hootoniks over there in the boys club."

4) How much has Ardern's career been negatively affected by her appearance?

We've seen this debate before - see my 2015 column, Jacinda Ardern and the 'pretty little thing' debate. Rachel Smalley explains Why it's sad Labour's Jacinda Ardern is attractive.

Smalley says: "sadly, she's attractive. I say sadly because that can work against a woman. God only knows why, but there are still some among us who believe beauty and intelligence don't go together... Ardern can't fight that. She can't change old minds and an old way of thinking. She's been in politics for some time now, and has worked as a senior policy adviser in London. She's got the goods. She's got the intelligence and the leadership potential. All she can do now is prove herself in the role and prove to the country she is a leader." Smalley also praises Ardern's authenticity: "What you see is what you get... Ardern, though, has it in spades. She just needs to hang on to it."

5) Can Ardern's success and potential be explained by her age?

Blogger Martyn Bradbury thinks so. He argues it's a generational thing: "I think that what Jacinda represents is a generation and cultural shift from Gen Xers and Boomers. Jacinda is the first political representation of Gen Y. The thing that makes her so unique is her total lack of Ego. She is contentious to a fault, she's part of a Generation that was taught empathy and compassion and consideration for others and recycling... She's part of a kinder Generation taught and brought up in a culture that was desperate to be inclusive of others and that ignoring inclusivity was the greatest sin" - see: The 2 things most political pundits are missing in their analysis of Jacinda becoming Deputy.
6) How can we explain the U-turn by Little, Ardern and King over the change in deputy leader?

All of these politicians were denying that any change was about to occur, and then it suddenly happened. John Armstrong explores the way in which words were very carefully used by the Labour politicians to ensure that they could plausibly deny the leadership change was happening - see: No room for sentiment - King knew she had to move aside for Ardern.

And Armstrong is convinced of the value of installing Ardern as leader: "Regardless of whether or not Ardern is deserving of her so-called 'star quality', Little needs her standing alongside him on election platforms, hoardings, advertisements and posters. She has the capacity to reach out to Aucklanders, more specifically the thousands aged between 18 and 30 who cannot be bothered voting and who find Little's dour trade unionist persona about as inspiring as the tired homilies found in the cheapest Christmas crackers."

7) Did Annette King help cause her own demise?

Toby Manhire pinpoints King's decision to go on the warpath against the notion that Ardern's rise would lead to her downfall: "It's quite a lurch in direction from her position on Monday, when she came out guns a'blazing, telling the Herald that she was a victim of ageism and had no intention of stepping down.

"She even went a little bit Trump," wrote Claire Trevett, 'accusing media of having a vendetta against her.' That reaction may have proved a large part of her undoing: it added a burst of oxygen to what had up to that point presented substantially as pundit-driven, filling the void of a deeply undramatic byelection aftermath" - see: And just like that there was a vacancy after all: Annette King makes way for Labour's rising star.

Manhire also suggests that Little may be advantaged by the possible perception that he knifed his own deputy: "whatever the truth of that it will do Little no harm whatsoever to leave the impression that he has a ruthless streak after all". Incidentally, Manhire has advice for Little about Ardern and other matters today in his satirical column Bad advice for NZ's top politicians.
8) Was Annette King pushed or did she jump?

King herself gives her answer to this - see Dan Satherley's I decided to retire, not Andrew Little - Annette King. See also, Claire Trevett on Annette King's resignation: 'Labour has lost one of its giants'.
9) Was Annette King's departure inevitable?

Tracy Watkins says it was - see her column, Why the Labour Party needed Jacinda Ardern, and needed her now. She argues "the writing was always on the wall after John Key's shock resignation galvanised Labour. Key going is a game changer, and one that could go either way at the polls. But it needed a bold matching move from Little."

Furthermore, "Ardern's chemistry with voters is what's needed to help reconnect with some of those urban liberals, young people and women who have drifted away from Labour since Helen Clark's time. She is also the perfect foil for the more dour Labour leader. Media were not the only ones who noted that on the campaign trail in Mt Albert. Labour observers saw it too."

10) How will Ardern's new position work in terms of Labour's "Auckland Strategy"?

According to Claire Trevett, "While Phil Twyford is capable of running an issue such as housing strongly, he is a more abrasive character than Ardern. Ardern is the face and Twyford is the fist of the party politically in Auckland" - see: Hey Jacinda... no pressure.
11) What role did the media play in the deputy leader change?

A number of politicians and commentators have suggested the media pushed for, and created, the demand for King to go. While this ignores the reality that the inevitable leadership change was well in train before the Mt Albert by-election, it still rankles with some. Richard Harman reports: "there was one slight jarring note in the background, and that was the role played by the media.

There were some people spoken to by Politik who felt that had King not resigned, the party would have faced endless media speculation about when Ardern might replace her" - see: It's his party now. Harman reports one senior MP saying the media speculation "was certainly a factor... But it was not an overpowering factor."

12) How will Adern perform as deputy leader?

She's a good foil for Andrew Little, says Vernon Small, who gives a useful rundown of other leader/deputy combos: "In the case of Michael Cullen he provided economic ballast to Helen Clark's leadership. Bill English brought the countryside and National traditions to John Key's urban money-man.

Wyatt Creech and Don McKinnon were the solid deputies that had the back of Jenny Shipley and Jim Bolger.- without any suggestion either coveted the top job. Paula Bennett is the perfect foil for English in much the same way Ardern is for Little" - see: King's move from defiance to acceptance boosts Labour's chances in September.
13) Did King really have to go?

According to the Dominion Post Parliament will be worse off without her, but "King had to go. After three terms in Opposition, her party is still flailing - languishing in the polls, and missing a driving sense of purpose. It won't find it with the same old faces. Even with its diminished caucus, it needs to find a spark. King has spent three decades as an MP, and she's into her second tilt as a deputy leader. Whether she left of her own volition, as she says she did, or she was pushed, it was time to move on. Other long-serving MPs, like Damien O'Connor and Trevor Mallard (whose hope of being the Speaker looks a forlorn one), should follow her example and also make for the exit" - see: Annette King a worthy Wellington champion.

Finally, for satire on Ardern becoming Labour's deputy leader, see The Civilian's Talented rising star finally presented with career-ending noose she always wanted, and Martin Van Beynen's New Labour deputy Jacinda Ardern is no mistake.