Jacinda Ardern

Biography

New Zealand’s third female PM, and at 37 our youngest leader since Edward Stafford in 1856, Jacinda Ardern had the most meteoric rise to power of any New Zealand PM – three months prior to being sworn in, she was not even leader of her party.

Like one of her political mentors, Helen Clark, Ardern grew up in rural Waikato, hardly a traditional Labour stronghold. She was raised as a Mormon, but left the church in 2005. After graduating from the University of Waikato, she worked in the offices of Phil Goff and Clark, and in Britain’s Cabinet and Home offices, and served as president of the International Union of Socialist Youth. After returning to New Zealand the 28-year-old entered Parliament on Labour’s list at the 2008 election.

Although she had long been identified as a rising star in New Zealand politics, Ardern began 2017 as a list MP in an opposition party that was languishing in the polls. In February she won a by-election in the electorate seat of Mt Albert – Helen Clark’s former stomping ground – and in March she became Labour’s deputy leader. Then on 1 August, less than eight weeks before election day, she succeeded Andrew Little as leader.

Ardern campaigned impressively against the vastly more experienced Bill English, and lifted Labour to a creditable 36.9% of the vote. After weeks of tense negotiations, on 19 October MMP ‘King-maker’ Winston Peters announced that his New Zealand First Party would form a coalition with Labour, which could also count on the support of the Green Party. With 63 seats between them, this was enough to install Ardern as our 40th PM.

On 21 June 2018 Ardern became only the second elected leader in the world (after Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto) to give birth while in office. She subsequently earned international acclaim for her response to the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks and her government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In October 2020 Ardern led the Labour Party to a comprehensive election victory, gaining 50% of the vote the first time any party had achieved this milestone since 1951 and 65 out of 120 seats in the House of Representatives. Although able to govern alone, Labour negotiated a co-operation agreement with the Green Party, which held 10 seats.

By Neill Atkinson

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