Ardern: ‘At some point I’ll make a mistake’

Jacinda Ardern’s new job has thrust her into uncharted territory, re-igniting interest in the looming election. Shane Cowlishaw sits down with the new leader of the opposition.

There will come a time, Jacinda Ardern says, when she stuffs up.

The media glory will have subsided, she will be grinding away at the coalface, and she will do something wrong.

“Inevitably, at some point, I’m going to make a mistake. Newsflash, here and now, I will make a mistake. But the test of anyone’s leadership is how they then manage it in the aftermath.”

It’s an answer that comes straight off the tongue, despite a whirlwind 24-hours for the new Labour Party leader.

She still looks fresh sitting down for an interview with Newsroom, riding the adrenaline but admitting she’s waiting for the crash.

After replacing Andrew Little in the top job, Ardern received the mother-of-all honeymoon period publicity bumps.

A strong performance in her maiden press conference as leader set the media pack into a frenzy, with her smile (or stern finger pointing) emblazoned across every website.

She was called “powerful”, with a “serious vibe”, while her counterpart, Bill English, was “boring”. The National Party were told they should be worried, and they certainly tread carefully in their initial comments about her appointment.

 'The test for me is whether or not my different approach to our Labour values will make that difference that we need.' Photo: Lynn Grieveson

But despite delivering the positive coverage her party has been desperately longing for, Ardern knows things can change quickly in her profession.

“I’ve been around politics long enough to know that these things are tidal and so for every day you might have that might feel positive there will be another day that will be hard or rocky, so never take anything for granted I guess, because politics is a hard environment.”

So why then, once the glow has faded, are people going to vote for Labour?

Their policies are, so far, still the same and Ardern’s appointment as deputy leader in March did nothing to halt the party slipping further into a quagmire.

It’s something she says will be a challenge for her, but focusing on the positivity of Labour’s vision will be the cornerstone.

As an opposition party one of the core responsibilities is to point out what the Government is doing wrong, but Ardern believes people may have heard too much of that at the expense of Labour’s solutions.

“I accept that for nine years I’ve been a member of a team that has had some hard times in the polls, there’s no denying that, but now I guess the test for me is whether or not my different approach to our Labour values will make that difference that we need.

Listen to audio of Shane Cowlishaw's interview with Jacinda Ardern below

“What I understand is people want to get to know the people who are presenting themselves as leaders, that’s human nature. What I wouldn’t want to see is that, though, at the cost of us having a discussion about what we represent.”

What that “different approach” is remains to be seen.

Ardern remains guarded about what tweaks or new ideas she may introduce, falling back on the 72 hours she told media she needed before any new announcements.

Labour’s family package won’t be changing though, she confirms, considering she had a big part to play in its creation.

A sweetener for students would be a likely bet, but Ardern won’t be drawn on any of that.

Her deflection skills are again in use when the conversation turns to something that is as inevitable as the sun rising: post-election talks with Winston Peters.

Her love of single-malt whiskey could be what gets her over the line with the leader of NZ First.

She pleads that she’s not trying to avoid the question (she is), but that she genuinely believes it’s a conversation to be kept for after voters have had their say.

When asked whether the public may have concerns about how such a newly-minted leader may fare in any government-forming discussions with both the Greens and the prickly Peters, she bristles slightly and says they’re unfounded.

Ardern points to her achievements; the architect of the “best-start” payment to families with young children, the families package, and the dole to apprenticeship scheme.

But she then brings up her use of humour to avoid the same question from a day earlier, telling media her love of single-malt whiskey could be what gets her over the line with the leader of NZ First.

Inside Jacinda Ardern's whiskey cabinet. Photo: Shane Cowlishaw

As if to prove that she does indeed have a taste for the beverage, she asks if we’d like to look inside her whiskey cabinet (after getting permission from a Labour media minder, of course).

It is indeed robust, including the popular Laphroaig and a South Island single malt.

Many are perilously low. Ardern explains that she’s needed a few late-night courage boosters during nine years in opposition.

If, come next month’s election, the 37-year-old delivers on the hype and brings the party back from the brink, neither those media minders or the party faithful will mind one bit if she finishes off the remainder in celebration.

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