Australian history set to repeat in New Zealand

Will Jacinda Ardern deliver the Bob Hawke punch?

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Many with reservations about Labour Party’s ability to unseat three-term rule of National Party may feel this is a colossal task for Jacinda Ardern.

Among others, this means turning around a rudderless and crippled ship in such a short lap and time. Has this phenomenon ever been achieved before?

No? Either you have a short memory, or were not even born when it happened.

This happened in Australia some 34 years ago. There, a new Australian Labour Party’s leader Bob Hawke, accomplished an electoral victory in just four weeks as leader.

He defeated siting PM Malcom Fraser’s ruling Liberal Party government in 1983.

Experience and Miracle

What caused this miracle for Labour? Australia was going through some tough economic times in early 1980s. At the time of proposed election in 1982, the economy suffered from high inflation, industrial disputes and high unemployment, accompanied by a prolonged drought. Fraser had been Prime Minister since 1975.

On the other hand, Labour Party was led by Bill Hayden, and like our Labour Party, they were also going through disputes, disunity and instability. A faction of the Labour Party wanted to roll Bill Hayden as Party Leader in favour of Bob Hawke.

Prime Minister Fraser was well aware of the disunity in Labour, and took advantage of this.

He prematurely dissolved parliament and called for election on March 5,1983, unaware that Hayden had resigned and was replaced by Hawke.

Frazer brought forward the election by seven months to take advantage on apparent disunity in Labour camp. Under the leadership of Hawke, Labour Party recollected, gained its lost territory and support, and surprised all political pundits. On the election night, Labour party experienced a massive swing and wrested back power.

Time Magazine, ran the following self-explanatory story in its March 14, 1983 issue:

Voters bet on a chummy, charismatic new leader

Barely a month ago, Robert James Lee (Bob) Hawke, 53, was a fledgling parliamentarian with a mediocre record as his party’s spokesman for industrial relations. Last weekend, he was elected Prime Minister of Australia, leading to victory a listless, often divided Labour Party that has held power for just three of the past 34 years. Claiming about 74 seats in the 125-seat House of Representatives (an approximate swing of 22), Hawke and his Labourites ended the 7½-year reign of Incumbent Malcolm Fraser and his Liberal/ National Party coalition.

Meaningful comparison

Now, let us compare this (1983 Australia situation) to 2017 election in New Zealand.

Change in Labour Party leadership took place less than two months before the election. The party, going through instability since the departure of Helen Clark in March 2009, failed to anchor with any leader. Political good-fortune eluded them and they were in a free-fall with National Party gearing up for a historic fourth term as the government.

And then a miracle happened, where admirably, Andrew Little gave over leadership to Jacinda Ardern. (See the author’s ‘Andrew’s sacrifice takes Jacinda to the Crown’ in this Section). And as they say, rest is developing into history.

The polls taken since Ms Ardern took charge have shown one thing clearly – Labour’s consistent march forward, breaking new grounds in polls and preferred Prime-Minister’s choice. All indications are that they will be in driver’s seat.

Sliding National

The meteoric rise for Ardern is contrasted by a drop in support for National Party, their campaign errors in apparent desperation, and absence of any major blunders by Ms Ardern. As a result, Jacindamania had taken root in earnest.

All general indications and trends point to one conclusion – history will be repeated.

Media worldwide will run similar news story as the Time Magazine story above, after the election on September 23, 2017. Ms Ardern would execute a Bob Hawke punch on Bill English.

Sceptics who consider this as a mammoth task for Labour Party in general and Ms Ardern in particular, are correct. However, it is not impossible, considering the telltale signs, as indicated above.

Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political observer, media commentator and journalist. He runs his blog, ‘Fiji Pundit’ and lives in Auckland.

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