Review Blog

Apr 14 2020

Jacinda Ardern, a new kind of leader by Madeleine Chapman

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Nero, 2020. ISBN: 9781760641818.
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Highly recommended. A book about Jacinda Ardern - Yes! I want to read it! For readers who feel like me, this book sets out her life in orderly chapters, from her early childhood in small town Murupara as the daughter of the local policeman, her time as student representative in the slightly larger Morrinsville, and her career moving through the hierarchy of the Labour Party; but while it is all faithfully recorded with an often slightly amusing twist of words, for someone who wants the inside on this world renown leader, I have to say, it does disappoint a little. But maybe that is not the fault of the biographer, for whilst the book is the result of extensive research, listed in the sources at the end, there is no intimate revelation from the subject or anybody close to her. Jacinda Ardern remains a private person; we have to work it out for ourselves.
However it is interesting that Ardern was raised as a Mormon. Her friendships with LGBTQIA+ people in her later student years led her to break from the theology, whilst still retaining family and community ties. Perhaps it was that mix of moral values and discovery of social justice issues that marked the beginnings of the person she is today, and the values of kindness and fairness that she espouses.
In her chapter on 'Helen and Jacinda', Chapman leads us into a thoughtful exploration of the world of politics for female leaders, comparing the stern and brusquely efficient style of Helen Clark 'beating men at their own game', and Jacinda Ardern, initially described as a 'pretty little thing' or 'babe', combining a natural warmth and empathy with a determination and dedication to achieve Labour Party goals. Chapman suggests that Ardern's style benefitted from her ability to communicate via social media as well as her steady focus on the important issues.
And of course, Ardern's response to the Christchurch terrorist attack in 2019 stands as an example of compassionate and caring leadership, attracting worldwide praise. Churchman examines the highs and lows of Ardern's time as Prime Minister, and whether she has delivered the transformation that she promised. Ultimately it will be up to the next election as to whether New Zealanders want to continue with this 'new kind of leader'.
Senior secondary students of politics will find interesting chapters in this book suitable for thoughtful discussion, particularly the challenges for women in politics, the idea of wellbeing at the centre of government policy, and the model of leadership that expresses empathy and compassion in a world where many leaders embody the opposite. And there is the bonus of two key Ardern speeches included in full - NZ National Statement to the United Nations General Assembly, 2018, and the Statement on Christchurch Mosque Terror Attack, 2019.
Themes: Biography, New Zealand, Women in leadership, Politics, Terrorism, Kindness.
Helen Eddy

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