Chris Hipkins’ Trust Challenge
They say a week is a long time in politics—what a week it’s been. Jacinda Ardern’s resignation as Prime Minister shocked many, given that she said she had “no plans to quit her job.” Her resignation wasn’t the only surprise; now we have a new Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins. Many commentators are now suggesting that Labour will abandon identity politics and move to the “bread-and-butter” right.
But there’s a deeper problem our new PM must contend with; the issue of trust in institutions, particularly in the government. A recent Herald poll showed that 32 percent of respondents found the government untrustworthy, and 15 percent found them very untrustworthy. The Herald also found that 64 percent felt the country had become more divided.
It is important to remember that leadership choices and decisions have far-reaching consequences. Leaders are responsible for the environment they create. Cheerfully saying that you are happy to create a two-tier society with vaccine mandates after consistently rejecting the idea erodes trust. Trying to vote through an entrenchment clause in the already controversial Three Waters bill does the same. As do financial stimulus packages that exacerbate the gap between rich and poor.
Please note that this is not to legitimise threats against people in leadership positions; certainly, there was a rise in threats against Jacinda Ardern, which is unacceptable.
Some commentators insist there are other forces at play. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark weighed in, saying, “We've become very polarised… I think it is time to reflect as a society how we're letting ourselves be so divided.” Others suggested it was misogyny, saying, “I don't know that she got the same amount of credit that she might have got if she was a man.”
But former senior ministerial advisor for the last National Government Brigitte Morten says, “it was potentially "disrespectful" for people to reduce Ardern's presence in politics to the "subject of misogyny", rather than her achievements, or lack thereof.”
But here's the thing; as a representative democracy, it is ultimately our responsibility as citizens to hold leaders accountable by voting. During their time in office, we also have the privilege of providing feedback in various forms, whether through writing to them or protesting if we feel we are not being heard. The way we do it demonstrates the trust deficit that many are seeing.
Given that a week is a long time in politics, the election is quite far off. A Curia Poll of people who voted for Labour in 2020 shows that many key policies are unpopular. In fact, our new leader's primary challenge is rebuilding our trust in the government. That will heal divisions. As Thomas Simpson has written, “there is evidence from the US that political polarisation is now affecting the ability of ordinary citizens to engage with each other on issues which are politically significant.”
The trust challenge is a big ask; Ardern turned her party around within weeks in 2017; Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has to turn the country around in a matter of months.
By Jason Heale, Communications Manager, Maxim Institute.