Will it be fair to say that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in calling off Capital Gains Tax, just had her Sir John Key moment, whereby putting their personal political capital behind an issue dear to them in their minds and lacking any perceivable political momentum?
For many people, any suggestion that the government’s recent culling of Tax Working Group report on Capital Gains Tax is reflective of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s John Key moment, would be too unpalatable.
However given that both leaders – Jacinda Ardern and John Key – had swept to power riding on the popularity of their unassumingly likeable and relatable personalities, any comparison would also be not completely out of question.
The latest announcement by PM Ardern of calling of Capital Gains Tax is a stark reminder of the way former PM John Key had sought to have his way by imposing a new national flag on an unassuming nation.
The difference is indeed in the cost imposed on the nation for their personal preferences. While PM Jacinda Ardern had cost the nation a paltry $2 million, Sir John Key’s insistence with a national flag referendum had a whopping cost of $26 million on the public exchequer.
Also, another difference was that Sir John was a third term Prime Minister with a depleting popular base, while Ms Ardern being the first term Prime Minister whose popularity continues to surge unabated.
But both instances have similarities where political leaders over-estimate their power of personal popularities in politics and insist for their preferences in public policies, despite the absence of any political momentum to support those preferences.
Both leaders were also adamant about leaving their greatest legacy behind – one for the cause of social justice, and the other for changing the status quo on the New Zealand flag (despite publically considering it not important for New Zealanders)
Also, in both instances, the two leaders refused to take the advice of their close associates and advisers who had offered more unbiased advice around the apparent lack of notable momentum in public to support their preferred choices.
Earlier, Sir John had championed the cause of change of flag, in an unabashedly overt manner by expressing his personal preferences – a fact detested even by many of his ardent supporters.
Now, Ms Ardern had also not shied away from making her personal preferences clearly known to everyone on Capital Gains Tax.
Expressing her personal backing on the Capital Gains Tax Ms Ardern said: “I genuinely believe there are inequities in our tax system that a capital gains tax in some form could have helped to resolve.”
And this is after an initial pre-election insistence to put CGT on the table for 2017 elections, before being cajoled by more reasonable advice within Labour caucus to put it off till 2020 elections.
Eventually, both have to accede to the reality of, public apathy towards issues they believed were of first priority for the New Zealanders.
However, despite their seeming similarities, there are some glaring deviations as well in both instances.
While Sir John was seemingly trying to reinvigorate public mood in favour of the third term government by raising nationalistic sentiments, Ms Ardern did not have any such necessity of raising the profile of a government which is very much in its first term and reasonably holding its forte.
On the contrary, it might be a case that Ms Arden could have been keen to consolidate fortunes for the Labour Party for the next election by getting New Zealanders to support her personal passion of social justice, and liberate them from the perils of being in a coalition government.
Undoubtedly, it is Ms Ardern’s personal charisma and high popularity that is carrying the weight for this government, without any significant damage to its reputation for many of their policy goofs (KiwiBuild is one such sloppy policy that manages to hide beneath the sheen of Ms Ardern’s stardom).
Though unsubstantiated, it could be a case that Ms Arden would have decided against the option of burning her personal political capital for implementing CGT, when it is otherwise rising unabatedly, especially after her rock star response to the unfortunate Christchurch terror attack.
Despite any political damage, it seems that Ms Ardern had her Sir John Key moment of dragging the whole nation unnecessarily behind a non-existent issue.