When I heard that the Prime Minister was making a special announcement yesterday I experienced a sense of dread.
It seemed clear to me that she was not herself. The effusive jubilant Jacinda of previous years had more recently appeared to become very tired and withdrawn. Continuous threats and abuse on her were clearly having an effect. Her earlier announcement that for safety reasons she would curtail normal campaign activities showed how bad things were. You only have to witness Jacinda in a crowd and the level of aroha shown to her historically to realise that things were different for her.
The last few years have been unlike any other, with a natural disaster, a terrorism attack and a one in one hundred year global pandemic for her to cope with. In the last five years she has probably done as much governing and important decision making that other leaders complete in a decade.
And she is a mother with a young child. Especially at Neve’s age time with children is precious. The out of control time demands on Jacinda were enormous and not consistent with leading a normal fulfilling life.
It must be remembered that she was a rarity amongst politicians. She was a very reluctant leader and had to be begged and cajoled to take the job.
And she was also unique in that even during Labour’s factional times she conducted herself with dignity and did not engage in the type of shitty underhand activity that politics is renowned for.
The more recent level of vitriol shown to her was extreme. This article by Anusha Bradley at Radio New Zealand describes it well. About Jacinda’s decision to retire she says:
While it wasn’t explicitly stated, it’s hard to imagine the increasingly violent abuse directed at her was not part of the reason.
“It is no surprise to me at all … she could not, not be affected by this,” says Disinformation Project director Kate Hannah.
Ardern probably tops the list for the amount of vitriol endured by any political leader in this country, Hannah believes.
“In the earlier parts of her first term we got sort of commentary about her looks and her lack of perceived experience. The fact that sort of she was, you know, well spoken, and really good at communicating complex issues was kind of a slur against her.”
But in the last two years the misogyny and violence directed towards Ardern has not only increased in volume, but also become more dangerous, says Hannah, who studies online hate speech and disinformation.
“The language and imagery used to talk about the Prime Minister has become more violent, more vulgar, more crude and repetitive.”
According to a recent study, published just before Christmas, which charts the rise of misogynistic language towards female leaders and women in the public sphere, the most prevalent word used to describe the Prime Minister in these circles is “the C word, and the most prevalent visual image is of witchcraft.”
“And this is old data. This is data from the middle of last year. So it’s actually got worse.”
Another grim factoid from the paper shows the word “Neve” – referring to Ardern’s pre-school daughter – is also on the most prevalent list.
Helen Clark, no stranger to misogyny, has said this:
The pressures on prime ministers are always great, but in this era of social media, clickbait, and 24/7 media cycles, Jacinda has faced a level of hatred and vitriol which in my experience is unprecedented in our country …
Our society could now usefully reflect on whether it wants to continue to tolerate the excessive polarisation which is making politics an increasingly unattractive calling.”
Labour’s focus will be on selecting a new leader. With Grant Robertson appearing to rule himself out Chris Hipkins may have the inside running although Michael Wood’s name has been mentioned. The need for diversity will mean that if either of these persons succeed then either Kiri Allen or Carmel Sepuloni must have the inside running for Deputy.
As for Jacinda can I thank her for her sterling work over the past five years. When the dust thrown up by Trumpian alt right anti vaxers and members of the farming community who refuse to acknowledge that climate change is even a thing settles down I am sure that she will be recognised as an exceptional Prime Minister who ruled during an exceptional time.