Can Ardern build back brave?

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We have a new government here in New Zealand. It’s the same one as before, led by Jacinda Ardern, just back bigger. Under our voting system, we generally have a government formed by the collaboration of two or more parties but this time – for the first time since the system was introduced – a party was elected in sufficient numbers to govern alone. They’re not going to. They are going to involve another party – the Greens – in some form. Not because they have to but because they can. 

All this is good news, certainly for the Labour Party which won hands down, for the Greens who got more seats than predicted, and for the country, opting for stability in a time of crisis and being kind. There is no doubt that in the last term Prime Minister Ardern and her colleagues managed the pandemic response exceptionally well and I’ve no doubt they’ll continue to do so. What I am beginning to doubt is their ability to unravel the complex issues they will face during their next term and whether they are brave enough – bold enough – to really do things differently in order to improve outcomes for everyone.

Like all economies around the world we face recession. Those already in poverty will be joined by others. Environmental challenges persist and the dangers of pandemic are ever present. Jacinda Ardern is acknowledged as an excellent communicator – much is made in the profession of her public relations degree from the University of Waikato – and, for the most part, her ministers are also blessed with the ability to engage with New Zealanders and trust them to do the right thing. They have been been brave, bold and resolute in their approach to the three major crises that punctuated their first term in office – the Christchurch terror attack, the White Island volcanic eruption and the onslaught of COVID-19.

My concern is while their reaction to crisis has been excellent, they are not – nor are their advisers – looking hard enough at the network of issues that lie ahead. Their focus seems to be on ‘just getting through’. The Green Party produced and communicated ambitious social policies during the election campaign that did address the issues ahead but those policies seem outside Labour’s gaze. I sincerely hope for all our sakes, that in next three years those ‘in charge’ act courageously. That they are radical. That they act differently. I hope beyond hope that they don’t keep themselves shackled to the constraints of a pre-COVID world and that they look instead for imaginative and different ways of governing and, in doing so, create a new type of society that takes us forward rather than chains us to the past.

There has been much talk of ‘build back better’. I rather think it should be ‘build back bold’, ‘build back brave’ or ‘build back different’ if we are to really solve the issues and leave nobody behind.