Eight weeks ago polls showed that just one in four people in New Zealand supported the Labour Party. However, on election night that support had risen dramatically and Labour received over 36% of the popular vote, and now has a real chance with New Zealand First and the Greens of forming the next government.
What ‘s interesting about Labour’s sudden rise in fortunes is that apart from a change of leadership the policies of the party haven’t really changed - they are still concerned about the housing crisis, the quality of our waterways, mental health and people living in poverty. So labour’s surge in support has been largely due to the popularity of its new leader Jacinda Arden, what the media has coined 'Jacindamania'. So what is it that makes Jacinda so popular given this is the first time she has led a major party?
The political commentator Barry Sopher attributes it to the fact she is a great communicator, she is confident, she seems believable, and she has captured a mood for change. And he says like the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau she is stylish and young and resonates with millennials and young people.
The leader of the National Party, Bill English hasn’t been blind to the effect that the stylish and the relentlessly positive Jacinda has had on voters. During the election campaign he worked hard to make himself more personable, he was a lot more polished in the way he communicated, and he always looked for an opportunity to smile and connect with voters.
So what does Jacindamania and a more polished Bill English say about New Zealand voters? It says a good many of us are more influenced by how a leader presents than what their party stands for. This is borne out by what commentators have said about Labour’s former leader, Andrew Little. The left-wing blogger Simon Wilson, for example, said he wanted to like the previous labour leader. Saying that he thought most of the policies he presided over were pretty good. He admired that he united a fractious caucus and never faltered in his desire to take on John Key. He admired that he was a politician of principles and was determined to reinforce the core values represented by unionism and would have made New Zealand a better place to live in if he had been prime minister. However, he said the problem was that Andrew Little, unlike Jacinda, didn’t present well and so wasn’t a winner.
The truth is we may admire people on the basis they are principled, earnest and hard-working, but we won’t vote for them, and we don’t want them to lead us unless they have a certain x-factor personality. In other words what’s most important is how they present.
This is a real weakness of humanity. And it is one of the reasons Jesus when he came, was rejected by his own people – because he deliberately presented without that x-factor. In Isaiah 53 it says referring to Jesus, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. . . By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested?”
Have you ever wondered why Jesus presented this way when he could have chosen any appearance and demeanour he desired? Becuase he wanted us to look past superficial appearances and to see who He was and why he had come. Mark 10:45 says, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. Our love for Jesus should not be on the basis of what he looks like, but on the basis of who he is and what he has done.
God calls us in choosing our leaders to follow his example and look past the superficial and see the fruit in people’s lives that reveal what is in their hearts. When we look at the heart we see through shallow appearances and avoid being sucked into the cult of personality. That enables us to chose leaders who really are humble, servant-minded and hopefully God honouring.
Let’s hope whoever leads the country this time has the most loving and servant heart.
But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7