Political Party Puppies

by Sara Dinnen

It’s election year in New Zealand.  And Venezuela, Gambia and Lesotho.  What are my chances of my becoming an MP or, indeed, the leader of a party?

In Venezuela, Gambia and Lesotho nil, because they’ve already had their elections. I thought of Australia since they change their Prime Ministers almost as much as the rest of us change bed sheets, unless you’re a male of course. They don’t change anything unless coerced.

But women political party puppies are fairly thin on the ground in Aussie.  One woman Prime Minister in 167 years does not look good for your chances of becoming leader, a cabinet minister or senator.  Or, if you do, staying there for more than a few minutes – think of poor Julia Guillard who was buffeted by all sorts of slings, arrows and shoes when she headed up the country.  Her strangulated vowel sounds didn’t help her cause but, even so, the treatment handed out to her was poor sport mate.

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Julia Guillard (above) Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka have very good batting averages for women Prime Ministers.  Sirimaco Bandaranaike was the world’s first female Prime Minister, elected in 1960 when it was known as Ceylon and Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister of Pakistan twice.

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Sirimaco Bandaranaike – the world’s first woman Prime Minister in what was then known as Ceylon – now Sri Lanka.

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Benazir Bhutto – twice Prime Minister of Pakistan.

New Zealand rates fairly well, too.  Dame Jenny Shipley (she got the title after she resigned) was the country’s first Prime Minister.  Mind you, she wasn’t exactly elected by the populace.  She rolled Jim Bolger in a carefully planned back-room coup in 1997.

Jennifer Mary Shipley was 45 when she ascended to the political throne.  She is an elegantly-dressed woman and invariably there were mutterings in the press about whether she could handle the job.  Her response was typically forthright.

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“This ain’t a damn beauty contest,” she declared. “If you come into politics to be popular, then you’ve picked the wrong sport.”

These days she’s on all sorts of boards, as befits a former PM, and is a member of the Club of Madrid, a collective of former heads of countries that includes Mr Bill Clinton.  They meet once a year to set the world to rights.  You’d have to say they’ve got a fairly big job on their hands at the moment and it would be interesting to know what Bill says to Jenny about Donald over a glass of Spanish vino of an evening.

Then along came Helen Clark, the first woman in New Zealand to actually be elected as Prime Minister in 1999 by defeating Jenny Shipley in a general election. Helen Elizabeth served for nine years at the helm and there was no doubt who ran the ship.  Her Ministers called her “Boss” and she was indeed.

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Ms Clark, as she preferred to be known despite being married to hirsute Peter, was known for appointing women to positions of power within the corridors of power in Wellington.  She came in for flak over it and there were questions about her batting preferences. Her low voice didn’t help but, even so, much of the talk said more about those speaking, than those being spoken of, and could have indicated jealousy.  Or it was just plain whining.

New Zealand hasn’t had a woman Prime Minister since 2008 when John Key came to power.  I mean, three women PMs in a row is a bit much don’t you think?  But watch this space.  The competent Jacinda Adern – the new leader of the Labour Party currently in opposition – is on a rise.  She’s only been in the job for a week (as of writing) and already she’s captured more media attention than her predecessor managed in a couple of years.

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Jacinda Adern – New Zealand Labour Party leader.

Why?  Hard to know, unless the media have been gagging to interview someone far less boring than the current crop of political puppies.   She’s young (37) and earmarked for great things.  Come September’s general election she could be running the country. God knows, the Greens have helped her with maladroit bumbling and disarray.

The question from a morning television host about whether Jacinda Kate Laurell Adern has ‘baby plans’ endeared her even more to the country as she batted the question for a six.  The Human Rights Commission declares it poor form to ask a woman that in a job – or any – interview but the cricketer-turned-television jock either didn’t know or was too dense to understand it. An underarm throw from him it certainly was.

So – what are my chances of becoming PM?  Nil.  I think you have to belong to a political party first.  But there are women hovering – and they neither need, nor do they want – an apolitical pundit from the right and left of centre up north advising them. Except in print.

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