Talent, temperament and tenacity paramount to leading the country

Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford.
CARMEN BIRD/SUPPLIED

Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford.

EDITORIAL: It is every woman's right to decide whether or not and when to have a child.

That should be the end of it and, in fact, a provision within the Human Rights Act has enshrined in law that it is a form of discrimination for an "employer to discriminate against an employee or a job applicant because she is pregnant or because it is assumed she may become pregnant".

Yet, Jacinda Ardern had been Labour Party leader for just a few hours when she was asked (more than once) whether she could lead the country while also becoming pregnant.

New Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and deputy Kelvin Davis.
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New Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and deputy Kelvin Davis.

While she had no problem being asked the question because she had raised the issue in the past, it is largely a fleeting distraction and should be treated as such. Of course, there will be people outraged at the double standard of asking a woman and not a man, but let's just treat this for what it is.

Having children is a major change for anyone. There are great days, there are rough days, but that's life. The vast majority of mothers and fathers manage to juggle work and family commitments with a mix of planning, flexibility, compromise and sacrifice. A high-profile politician is no different.

Ardern deciding to have children is her business alone. If it were to happen it's not as if the government would topple, should she turn her party's fortunes around and somehow become prime minister.

People have as much right to know of her decision around children as they do about whether a stranger on the street plans to start a family.

Equally, the fixation on Ardern's age is a distraction.

She may be among the youngest major party leaders New Zealand has had, but at 37, she's only two years younger than Bill English was when he first took the reins of National, in 2001.

Around the world there are examples of younger leaders taking control of much larger countries – Justin Trudeau of Canada was 43, France's Emmanuel Macron was 39. (In a historical context, the Queen was 25 when her reign started.)

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Age, whether on the lower end or the higher side, should not be a defining gauge of whether a person will do well at a given job.

Talent, temperament, and tenacity will always be more important and valuable measures of success. The old adage "if you're good enough, you're old enough" certainly is applicable.

If Ardern is serious about wresting power from English she will have to prove her worth. Relying on personal popularity and connecting with younger voters is a start, but it won't be enough.

She has to foot it with English on policy detail that will somehow resonate with the kind of voters her party has not been able to capture at the last three general elections.

English would be wise not to attack Ardern on age and inexperience, as it would most likely backfire, highlighting his own age when he first led his party 16 years ago.

He has to hammer home his vast political experience and stability as massively positive attributes, along with wins like yesterday's announcement that the unemployment rate of 4.8 per cent is the lowest in almost nine years.

Ardern may have more charisma and a boost in momentum, but there's more to being prime minister than a feelgood honeymoon period and the platitudes of the past couple of days.

* Comments on this article have been closed.

 - The Dominion Post

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