What's in a name? The coronation of 'Jacinda' gives Labour a new brand video

Jacinda Ardern has given herself till Friday to mull over how to put her stamp on the campaign.
MONIQUE FORD/STUFF

Jacinda Ardern has given herself till Friday to mull over how to put her stamp on the campaign.

OPINION: Winston (Churchill and Peters). Jacinda. Boris.

It's the first-name effect.

You have to feel sorry for the Davids, Bills, Johns – and even Helens and Norms – of politics because It only works with distinctive names.

Labour's billboards and campaign slogan were early casualties of its leadership change.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF

Labour's billboards and campaign slogan were early casualties of its leadership change.

And then not always.

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Yet when it does happen it tells you something significant is going on. It can be anything from notoriety to familiarity to affection, but it means the heavy lifting has been done.

Politicians talk about the importance of name recognition. Recognition based on a single name is gold.

There is no doubt Labour's new leader – surname Ardern for the record – has mined the rich vein.

If proof was needed it came on Wednesday. Barely a day into the job, she headed out on to Parliament's forecourt to meet some secondary school students. A chorus of "Jacinda, Jacinda" went up from another class waiting to do the Parliament tour. Primary school kids.

It's also the magnet effect, that draws people to the person and the personality. John Key had it in bucket loads. Winston Peters still does. And the prime minister usually has it ex officio. The list ends there in the current Parliament.

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All of which is a roundabout way of saying Andrew Little has done Labour a huge favour by promoting her and then standing aside.

The party is in a huge hole, and with just seven and a half weeks to go until polling day. There's less time still before early voting starts – just 40 days and 40 nights – for Ardern to win back a flood of voters.

But there is huge adrenalin-fuelled optimism in Labour's ranks that dwarfs anything that followed the selection of any in the procession of leaders since Helen Clark threw up her hands in resignation.

By the party's own account a thousand new volunteers have signed up and $250,000, at an average of $30 a pop, has poured into the party's coffers since the leadership change was announced.

There could be some smoke and mirrors being deployed here. After all, it does the party no harm to feed the bandwagon effect.

But it is clear Labour has received a huge shot in the arm from the change.

Her first task is to repatriate Labour's diaspora.

Those female voters who shifted to National under Key and stayed there.

Those younger voters who were either refuseniks or went to the Greens ... where they were joined over the last week or two by others after that party's welfare policy and co-leader Metiria Turei's "benefit bomb".

Labour also believes there are a significant number who now rate themselves NZ First voters; there simply must be given that Labour has slumped to 24 per cent and Peters' party is in the mid-teens.

However, it seems less clear whether Ardern will be able to lure that grouping back than the green-tinged exodus.

Meanwhile, the appointment of Kelvin Davis as her deputy will make it that much easier for Labour to hold and lift its Maori vote. It must have sent a nervous shiver up the spine of the Maori Party.

Just what the new Labour broom will sweep away, and what will be kept, remains to be seen.

Ardern has given herself 72 hours to take stock.

Mercifully the "fresh approach" campaign slogan is gone. Alongside National's "delivering for New Zealanders", it was feeling more like a battle between supermarkets than political parties.

Ardern is clear she will keep her front bench and portfolio roles in place, other than a "switcheroo" of some roles, including Justice, with Little.

Her back office and leader's team will also stay for now, though some fresh blood will be added. As with the portfolio roles, she sees nothing to gain from a massive disruption so close to the election.

Some policy changes are in train, though how extensive they'll be is an open question.

Ardern has pledged to stand by the fiscal plan, released a couple of weeks ago, as well as Little's rejection of a broad capital gains tax and an increase in the pension age.

But in an interview on Wednesday she seemed to preserve some wriggle room on tax. It's an area where Little had made several "captain's calls" that took tax increases, as well as new taxes, off the table, to the chagrin of some MPs.

The sector where policy is most likely to be Arderned-up is in free education.

Labour has already put a generous, but long term, tertiary package on the table alongside a big boost for the early childhood sector.

But there is room in Grant Robertson's budget for a more generous package – greater even than the one Labour was planning to unveil under LIttle in the next few weeks.

And it is an area where she can draw together her policy priorities: children, inequality and opportunity, within a big-bang social policy that draws on Labour's roots.

But as interesting as reshuffles of publicity, personnel and policies might be, the most important change came in a word. At midday on Tuesday.

 - Stuff

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