Raff Kingsbury reports from Labour’s big rally in Wellington last Sunday.
At St James Theatre in Wellington yesterday, the MC introduced Jacinda Ardern with a line that would have been pure hyperbole a month ago, but now seems very possible: “Welcome the next Prime Minister of New Zealand!” The 1550 seat space was at capacity with a small number turned away at the doors. Excitement for Ardern was palpable, her speech frequently punctuated by cheers, foot-stamping, and chants of “Let’s do this”. The biggest cheers were during Ardern’s promises regarding education and climate change. Her speech also emphasised mental health, homelessness, home ownership, and child poverty. Sticking to her rhetoric of relentless positivity, she was brief when pointing out current problems in society, focussing instead on how New Zealand could do “better”. Her warning that a fourth consecutive National government would see “for the first time, a generation going backwards,” is characteristic of this approach. National would send the next generation backward, but they haven’t yet. The world needs fixing, but it isn’t actually broken. This is only a small step removed from straightforward agreement with National’s propaganda – that we have a strong, healthy country ploughing onward into the future. Despite this, Ardern’s framing and delivery is clearly proving effective with recent polling putting Labour ahead of National for the first time in over a decade.
To bring a sense of urgency to Labour’s policies, Ardern unveiled the party’s plan for their first 100 days in office: banning overseas speculators buying residential properties by Christmas; introducing higher standards for rental properties; bringing forward the first of three free years of tertiary education to be effective on from January 1st and increasing student allowances by $50 a week; raising the minimum wage to 16.50 by April; bringing in a new families package by July with winter energy payments and increased parental leave; “beginning to establish” an independent climate commission; initiating ministerial reviews into mental health among children and abuse in state care.
Notably absent was talk of unions or of the place of workers in fighting for Ardern’s vision of a “better” New Zealand. As we have said in previous articles, Ardern does not represent a left turn for Labour. While that is true, polling indicates that she is consolidating left-wing votes and pulling significant numbers of swing votes away from National. For all of our criticisms of Labour, we continue to call for a change of government and, twelve days out from the election, that is looking increasingly likely.
Photo credit: Joe Boon