Tova O'Brien: Will #resignjacinda prove to be true?


I don’t spend much time on Twitter these days but when I do have a cursory peek twitter tells me the hashtag #resignjacinda is trending. 

I’ve never clicked on it before because it’s a bit like the tiniest billy goat gruff kowtowing to the troll under the bridge but yesterday I did, I clicked. 

You see I’d had a couple of conversations with politically savvy friends over the weekend about whether Jacinda Ardern might indeed resign. 

I preface this editorial by saying it is highly speculative. I don’t really think she will resign before the 2023 election but it’s not completely outside the realm of possibility. 

The hashtag has nothing to do with this - I might add - and I was right not to have clicked on it in the past - total waste of time, nothing substantive or illuminating to be found there.

But there are clues to be gathered elsewhere. 

Take Sir John Key. His resignation as PM was smart.

Yes, there are still people - similar to those behind the resign Jacinda hashtag - who steadfastly believe there was a looming scandal. But the reality was far more beige. 

He simply read the writing on the wall. He didn’t want to be a loser. He quit while he was ahead. Basic political calculus. 

Sure Jacinda Ardern is insisting she’ll stay on and contest the 2023 election.

But Key did that too - you have to as Prime Minister otherwise don’t bother coming on Monday. 

Key repeatedly committed to standing in 2017. In the same year he resigned, he had already decided he would go and you can kind of tell by what he said.

"My position hasn’t changed which is, that I enjoy being Prime Minister," Key said.

"My focus at the moment is getting through to a hopefully successful result in 2017."

As the year wore on he realised that wasn’t going to happen so he bowed out gracefully. Handing poor old Bill English another hospital pass but actually leaving the National Party in pretty good shape. 

Let’s reflect on the poll from around the time Key resigned.

May 2016, National was on 45.1 percent - that’s really good. Labour was on 32.7 percent - that’s pretty bad. 

Now, in May 2022, Labour is on 38.2 percent to National’s ascendant 40.5 percent.

The two numbers to hone in on here - Key resigned when National was sitting at 45 percent... Labour is currently way below that resignation point at 38 percent.

Judith Collins used to say 35 percent was her sacking point as a leader, though she defied it when she utterly tanked her party. 

The point is Jacinda Ardern is a smart, retail politician like John Key. And like John Key, she likes to be liked which begs the question, is she too, doing the political calculus?

Is it better to quit a winner, than gamble and lose? 

It might be because she’s been overseas so much lately but already it feels a bit like Ardern’s senior ministers - her kitchen cabinet - are puffing out their chests just that little bit further, jockeying for headlines just that little bit more, and, quietly away from prying ears, behind closed doors, some ministers are even questioning the Prime Minister’s leadership for the very first time in five years. 

It also doesn’t feel like her heart is in it in the same way we saw in her first term as Prime Minister - back when she was popular and adored. 

December 2016 Sir John Key announced his resignation. A generous runway for the new leader ahead of Decision 2017. 

December 2022 is five months away.