Well, she is good. Extremely good. I watched her speak to an assembly of senior students at Western Springs College on Tuesday and she was much better than in the television debate two nights later when she was not looking her best and not much of what she said was as as "clear and transparent" as she kept saying she wanted to be.
But in her element, an assembly hall of senior students, she was warm, sparkling, vivacious. More important, she is at ease with herself, and apparently just as much at ease with the whirlwind of attention and pressure suddenly thrust upon her.
"Are you on tinder, Jacinda?" one youth asked. "Noo," she replied but added she has been on it. Was that brave or am I showing my age?
I'm trying to imagine what it would be like, at 37, to be preparing for a sidekick role in an election campaign, expected to do little more than stand beside the leader and do what you can to brighten up his appearances, then to be given an hour's notice that he is resigning and you're it.
Suddenly you're at the epicentre of a cyclone of media calls, party meetings, policy announcements, public engagements, staff assignments, problems, needs, demands, questions. So many questions. Coming at you from left-field, right-field and everywhere in between. Some come with microphones in front of your face, others come quietly from colleagues and staff. Many of the questions demand instant decisions of someone and that has to be you. The leader.
You hadn't realised there were so many things a leader alone has to decide, on the hoof, often with a camera on you and you haven't had time to discuss the subject with anyone. Your mind clicks into high gear, you speak, thinking so fast you hardly hear what you're saying and you wonder later, was that okay?
Welcome to the life of a Prime Minister every day.
Jacinda Ardern on the stump quickly dispels any notion she is too young for the job. She's an assured public speaker in that modest, natural way New Zealanders like. She puts on no airs and can laugh at herself. And she is young enough to represent a generational change.
Part of me feels it is time for one. Thanks to John Key and Bill English this is now an economically strong, confident, outward-looking and cosmopolitan country. We are no longer living in the shadow of economic change as we still were under Helen Clark. The Ardern generation has never known what the old country was like.
There is a risk that what they don't know they are destined to repeat. It was a worry in the debate that when English tackled her on "fair pay" agreements across entire industries she didn't appear to know what he was talking about. But today's economic orthodoxy, or "neoliberalism" if you don't like it, is well entrenched in the public service and there is little risk we will lose it.
It feels like time for a generational change because the present Government's big failure has been housing. It waited too long to do anything to dampen the demand that sent house prices through the stratosphere and has deprived too many of the younger generation of much hope of home-ownership. The Government left it to the Reserve Bank to eventually introduce loan-to-value restrictions, and left it to Labour to utter the once-unspeakable phrase, capital gains tax.
Andrew Little dropped that ball when he took over after the last election, and looked weak six months later when the Government adopted a "bright line" test for capital gains liability on residential investments. Now Labour not only plans to extend the bright line to five years, but tax negative gearing (which I hope means remove interest deductions), remove urban limits and establish a $2 billion state corporation to build houses for sale at cost to first-home seekers.
Privately, housing spokesman Phil Twyford used to call the package "shock and awe", which is what the rampant house market needed a few years ago. Now? The major trading banks reined in lending mid-way through last year and the market has gone quiet. Volume has plummeted but not prices. The market is probably awaiting the election result. When English talked about relaxing the LVRs the other day, I despaired. It was the wrong message, wrong sentiment, wrong politics.
Owners of investment properties will be watching the polls and we could soon see them unloading quickly. All investors will be nervous at Labour's talk of taxing other assets, and the whole economy could slump if immigration is slashed by the numbers Ardern tried not to mention in the debate. Generational change always comes with some temporary pain.