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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > May 2019 > How Jacinda Ardern is transforming New Zealand

How Jacinda Ardern is transforming New Zealand

She made headlines for her compassionate response to March’s terror attack. Less noticed is the way this young PM’s radical plans are shaking up her country

The terrorist attack in Christchurch, which left 50 dead in March, thrust New Zealand into the spotlight and its prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, into a task that no political leader relishes. “One of the roles I never anticipated having, and hoped never to have,” she said, “is to voice the grief of a nation.” Yet she did just that, and in a manner that won plaudits around the world.

Where others might have threatened vengeance, Ardern centred her attention on the victims, emphasising that these Muslim “brothers, daughters, fathers and children… were New Zealanders. They are us.” She also showed a steelier side, promising to change gun laws and hold tech giants to account for helping spread the assailant’s propaganda. But she refused to give him the attention he craved or refer to him directly, insisting:

“We in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.” One British newspaper headlined its account of her speech with the words “Real leaders do exist,” while the US civil rights group the NAACP said she showed “dignity, grace, [and] courage.”

This wasn’t the first time that Ardern had captured the world’s attention. During the first year of her premiership, she became only the second elected leader in history—after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto—to give birth while in office; last autumn, she took her baby daughter, Neve Te Aroha (Aroha means “love” in New Zealand’s indigenous language), to a meeting of the UN general assembly. That, together with her strong feminist views, was enough to make her a figurehead for the global anti-Trump movement. But few of the American or European progressives who have briefly clocked Ardern as a face of hope in dark times will know much about what she is trying to do at home. Between extraordinary events, New Zealand is generally absent from their newspapers and bulletins. That’s a pity. This is a nation that in the 19th century earned the nickname “the social laboratory of the world,” and that under the Labour premier could—just maybe— take on that mantle once more. New Zealand may be a sparsely populated country miles away from most “western” nations, but it has often blazed a trail.

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InProspect's May issue: Tom Clark explores how British politics has ended up in crisis and suggests that a proper constitution could have avoided the current chaos and may well be necessary now to avoid the same problems in the future. Elsewhere in the issue: Kevin Maguire profiles Labour deputy leader Tom Watson who says that “if needs must” he would join a government of national unity. Max Rashbrooke examines Jacinda Ardern’s government in New Zealand and the ways the country is being transformed, ultimately suggesting that it could be an example for Britain to follow. Also, Stefanie Marsh follows the work of a donor detective who is helping children conceived by anonymous sperm donation to find their biological parents and Francesca Wade shows how Virginia Woolf is inspiring a new generation of women writers.