The resignation of Jacinda Ardern has already made more global headlines than you might expect for that of the PM of a small commonwealth nation like say Sierra Leone (population 6.5 million) or Singapore (population 5.5 million).
But international observers might not be too surprised by Ardern’s announcement that she has not got enough carbon-based fuel in the tank. That’s been evident for some time and being PM is a ferociously tough job.
What’s more unusual is resigning for that very reason. For many of her national and international supporters, without their quite realising it, that was part of the attraction. Her party caucus may well have been more frustrated by her frequent lack of grip and difficulty in driving to practical solutions, even while acknowledging its utility for electoral purposes.
So credit to the PM for realising that despite having more time left than most world leaders, she was not going to realise her cherished goals for New Zealand.
What might send a shiver down the spine of some older and more time-limited world leaders (as well as her own successor) is that her problems – even if rhetorically more polished – are quite similar to their own.
And seem equally intractable.
Just run through a list of potential policy-reality clashes: ending relative poverty when statistically poor people show little desire to model your own sensible behaviour; reducing carbon consumption without confronting the truly enormous welfare costs; paying for more health and social welfare without robust long-term market-led productivity growth; building affordable houses without substantial environmental modification and painful disruption to ossified local practice; increasing opportunity and outcomes for indigenous people without creating privilege and double standards.
One can speculate that Ardern’s relative youthfulness and sense of greater opportunities to come has made it easier to choose the early transition to minor international celebrity over the responsibility of exercising authority – let alone the risk of losing it.
Whatever your political views, you have to feel sorry for her successor. She has left him / her / them with a fine choice of pronouns and the near-impossible job of uniting the Labour party round a plausible platform without the diversion of an all-things-for-most-voters personality.
Barring an economic miracle, it will be hard for the government to slip out from under the burden of Ardern’s policy indecision. It looks more likely to slide softly out of office on the back of disappointed supporters and disillusioned middle-of-the-roaders.
Meanwhile, the world’s leaders will be asking themselves if Jacinda has made a wise move in beating them to an early shower.
Some will envy her opportunity to reinvent herself and leave behind problems she and her supporters thought she was particularly well-equipped to solve.
Others may take it as a sign that perhaps she wasn’t quite such a world leader – let alone a defining one – after all.