It was a tweet that prompted me to buy Jacinda Ardern: A New Kind of Leader. On her twitter account in late March, author Madeleine Chapman wrote: “I was worried something big would happen between this going to print and it being on shelves and guess what? The biggest thing happened!!”
I felt a pang of empathy. Writing a topical book must be tricky in the best of circumstances. But who could’ve foreseen yet another crisis interrupting Jacinda’s first term as prime minister?
Delving into the book, I was reminded that dramatic turns and unexpected events have been par for the course. Reading whilst in a lockdown fugue, it seems almost absurd that so many things happened so fast during that election period of 2017. The tepid campaigning disrupted by Labour’s last minute switch of leader. The jolt of excitement and hope as Jacindamania took hold across the country. The votes neck and neck. The limbo of waiting for Winston Peters to make his call (“the political Bachelor, idly twirling his final rose” as Chapman so perfectly puts it).
And then, elected within just a few months of stepping into the spotlight, Jacinda went on to face unprecedented challenges as prime minister – not to mention she had a baby in the midst of it all too.
Jacinda Ardern: A New Kind of Leader manages to contextualise these significant events while also providing the perspective of anecdotal insights. (I cannot shake the image of the Tawa Rotary Club gleefully presenting Jacinda with a birthday cake boobytrapped with a blue interior beneath its icing.)
This balance of personable and political is entertaining to read and even evokes the affable appeal of Jacinda herself. I admire Chapman’s skill at weaving a compelling narrative from the dry policy work and petty interactions that make up much of the political world. Her tone throughout the book is irreverent and at times very funny, more reflective of modern day blogging than a staid biographical tome. It will make an ideal gift for your overseas aunty who texted you to celebrate girl power when she first heard Jacinda was elected.
After a prologue set on the day of Winston Peter’s coalition announcement, Jacinda Ardern: A New Kind of Leader takes a chronological path through an unconventional career. We follow Jacinda’s progression from Mormon schoolgirl, to uni grad on her OE, to President of the International Union of Socialist Youth, to backbencher MP, to global celebrity fawned over by international media. Themes emerge throughout the chapters. Some due to the repetition of phrases such as “not cool but not uncool”. Others as we see Jacinda’s pragmatic decision making in action.
A long chapter is devoted to the terror events of 15 March 2019 and its aftermath. It’s a difficult read. But it reinforces why Jacinda’s approach to leadership and service is so important. A prime minister who could demonstrate that kindness is a strength, not a weakness, was exactly what New Zealand needed in those times. And, regardless of publishing deadlines, the book leaves you with the impression that it’s what New Zealand will need in its next chapter too.
Reviewed by Annabel Henderson Morrell
Jacinda Ardern: A new kind of leader
by Madeleine Chapman
Black Inc Books