Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

Josh Van Veen: The Psychology Of Ardernism

Jacinda Ardern has made New Zealanders feel safe. Josh Van Veen looks at psychological understandings of leadership to help explain the ongoing success of Labour in this election campaign.

Simon Bridges could have been the Prime Minister. Opinion polls in February suggested a close election, with Colmar Brunton giving the centre-right National/ACT bloc a marginal lead over Labour and the Greens. The Coalition Government looked weak and ineffectual.

There was a strong possibility that Jacinda Ardern would be out of office by Christmas.

For the million or so who voted National in 2017, there was no reason to change parties. But the appeal was nostalgic. National had become a symbol of prosperity and strength in the 2010s. It was Sir John Key’s legacy. Bridges, like Bill English, became a custodian of that inheritance.

However, no political party can rest on its laurels forever. When Bridges admonished the government for a litany of failures during the nationwide lockdown, he was basking in Sir John’s afterglow. But the halo of Jacinda Ardern shone brighter. Having defeated Covid-19, the Prime Minister could do no wrong.

The moment of truth came when Bridges went on Facebook to vent his frustration at the Level 3 extension in April. The post received thousands of negative comments. Bridges was unapologetic. But polling soon revealed a collapse in National support and a few weeks later the man who might have been Prime Minister was sacked by his caucus.

As it turned out, the problem wasn’t just Bridges. Two other leaders have failed to restore National’s status with the public. Commentators attribute it to bad PR. If so and so had been less abrasive, if they were more positive, if this announcement or that had been framed in a different way, then National would be polling higher.

These considerations may explain a percentage point or two difference but they don’t give us much insight beyond that. An obscure 1985 book by the late Australian political scientist Graham Little offers a different explanation.

In “Political Ensembles”, Little described a psychosocial approach to understanding leadership and politics. The hypothesis was that we follow leaders who help us resolve an eternal human dilemma: the inner-conflict between our psychological need for others and a yearning to be independent.

Little called this the “self/other dilemma”. There are three basic solutions. One may elevate the self above others, or they may see others as an extension of the self. Alternatively, one might attempt to have it both ways and find a compromise. The politics that one gravitates to will depend on how this problem is resolved. These solutions engender different leaders.

The individualist, who sees life as a contest, will look to a “strong leader” who can provide structure and meaning in an otherwise chaotic world. But others find comfort in belonging to a group. Thus, a collectivist solution presents itself to those willing to surrender their freedom and independence in return for emotional security from a “group leader”.

Others may look to an “inspirational leader” for a more elegant, if less attainable solution. But life is never that simple. Eventually, the flaws of one solution become apparent and we look to another. This is also true for society as a whole. Little believed that political events reflect the changing psychosocial dynamics of the electorate.

Hence, the same country that elected Barack Obama could also elect Donald Trump. And so it is in New Zealand. Covid-19 laid bare the eternal dilemma at the heart of our politics. After slumbering for a decade in Sir John’s paradise, the contented middle-class woke up to a nightmare. Ardern was there to comfort them.

Her leadership exemplifies the type of politics that Little identified with a collectivist approach to the self/other dilemma. The underlying assumption is that we are dependent on others for protection. Thus, the relationship is based on a desire to be cared for and a fear of responsibility. An individual leader comes to symbolise this dependency.

In 2020, we became dependent on Ardern to make us feel safe. For a large number of New Zealanders, this was stultifying and even childlike. They have a voice in Judith Collins who, like Margaret Thatcher, fits the archetype of what Little called a strong leader. But it is clear that most have put “other” before “self” in this election.

Ardern must now go on making us feel safe. If there comes a time when she can no longer do so, New Zealanders may start to think for themselves again.

Josh Van Veen is former member of NZ First and worked as a parliamentary researcher to Winton Peters from 2011 to 2013. He has a Masters in Politics from the University of Auckland. His thesis examined class voting in Britain and New Zealand.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0 license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.

_______________

Join 2,000+ other subscribers and sign up to NZ Politics Daily – a free daily e-mail newsletter sent out weekdays at 8am with a comprehensive, non-partisan list of articles, columns and analysis relating to New Zealand politics and government.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Boris Johnson At Sea: Coronavirus Confusion In The UK

The tide has been turning against UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Oafishly, he has managed to convert that tide into a deluge of dissatisfaction assisted by the gravitational pull of singular incompetence. Much of this is due to such errors of ... More>>

Reese Erlich: Foreign Correspondent: Rightwing Populism Will Make You Sick—Really

The four countries with the most confirmed COVID-19 infections in the world are all led by rightwing populists: the US, India, Brazil, and Russia. Throw in the United Kingdom, which has the largest infection rate in Europe, and you have a common pattern. ... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Early Voting Is OK, If You Know Who To Vote For

Early voting is now open which is great for the 80% or so of the population whose vote does not change from one election to the next. They can go out and vote at their convenience without having to wait for election day. But for those who are yet even ... More>>

The Conversation: Biodiversity: Where The World Is Making Progress – And Where It’s Not

The future of biodiversity hangs in the balance. World leaders are gathering to review international targets and make new pledges for action to stem wildlife declines. Depending on whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty person, you’re likely ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Trump’s Current Chances Of Re-Election

By now it seems clear that National have no fresh ideas to offer for how New Zealand could avoid the Covid-19 economic crisis. As in the past, National has set an arbitrary 30% ratio of government debt to GDP that it aims to achieve “in a decade or so,” ... More>>

The Conversation: Rogue Poll Or Not, All The Signs Point To A Tectonic Shift In New Zealand Politics

Richard Shaw AAP(various)/NZ Greens (CC-BY-SA)/The Conversation Strong team. More jobs. Better economy. So say the National Party’s campaign hoardings. Only thing is, last Sunday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll – which had support for the Labour ... More>>

The Coronavirus Republic: Three Million Infections And Rising

The United States is famed for doing things, not to scale, but off it. Size is the be-all and end-all, and the coronavirus is now doing its bit to assure that the country remains unrivalled in the charts of infection . In time, other unfortunates may well ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Altars Of Hypocrisy: George Floyd, Protest And Black Face

Be wary what you protest about. The modern moral constabulary are out, and they are assisted by their Silicon Valley friends in the Social Media club. Should you dare take a stand on anything, especially in a dramatic way, you will be found out ... More>>

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog