New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern resigned this week with the class and eloquence that has typified much of her time in the top job. Here are some of her speeches I've put on Speakola.
Before Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand prime ministers rarely delivered speeches that splashed either in Australia or on the world stage. There was David Lange and his famous Oxford Union debate on nuclear disarmament in 1985, Helen Clark’s excellent eulogy for Sir Edmund Hillary, but there aren’t many other international classics. Easily the most viewed Kiwi political speech on Speakola is not by a Prime Minister, it’s conservative MP Maurice Williamson’s ‘Big Gay Rainbow’ speech in favour of same sex marriage amendments in 2013.
Then Ardern arrived. She’s been an absolute gift for a speech collector, because she has a rare talent for sounding decisive, compassionate, empathetic and strong. She and her speechwriters produce good sentences. And she’s both a great reader and adlibber.
The resignation speech was read, as you’d expect, and it’s an excellent script. Ardern flags at the outset it will be a double banger of a speech. Firstly she announces the election date and mentions that it’s now customary in for incumbent prime ministers to do that at the beginning of an election year. Then she drops her bombshell:
This summer, I had hoped to find a way to prepare not just for another year, but another term -- because that is what this year requires. I have not been able to do that. And so today, I am announcing that I will not be seeking re-election and that my term as Prime Minister will conclude no later than the 7th of February …
[Lists achievements and challenges of last five years]
But I am not leaving because it was hard. Had that been the case I probably would have departed two months into the job. I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility, the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also when you are not. I know what this job takes and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It's that simple.
There will no doubt be a few reprises over the next few months, but I thought her first attempt at consolidating legacy were strong. Here’s how the speech concluded:
For my part, I want to finish with a simple thank you to New Zealanders for giving me this opportunity to serve, and to take on what has and will always be the greatest role of my life. I hope in return I leave behind a belief that you can be kind, but strong; empathetic, but decisive; optimistic, but focused; that you can be your own kind of leader -- one that knows when it’s time to go.
Those three strung together ‘buts’ help her build to a strong and emotional of conclusion, and it’s interesting that she chose ‘kind’ and ‘empathetic’ for herself. In the Trump era, those qualities often felt in short supply, and Jacinda Ardern was a welcome balm.
And she has the voice for a crisis, as she proved in the face of natural disaster, terror attack, and pandemic. I’ll list some of her best speeches below. Farewell Jacinda!
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