I think we can all agree that politics is a bit shit right now, a lot shit actually. The world is in flames and it is no surprise that some people want no parts in it, no parts in fixing a system fundamentally and continually broken mostly by men in power- let’s be frank. However, it is important to take a step back and view this in the round because this is very necessary.
A few weeks, maybe a couple months now, Jacinda Ahern announced she was stepping down as Prime Minister for New Zealand because she simply did not have it in her to carry on the mandate as handed to her by the people who put her in office. Her tank had run empty. The decision to include this particular reasoning, was indeed a bold move. If a man had stated he was quitting office to spend more time with his family he would be hailed as a hero who put family first but for a woman to put a similar set of reasons across, there is that belief that she was simply not up to the job and as one would have it, the mad hatters of social media immediately reduced her reason to that and just that. For a politician to be so openly honest about why they are walking away from the corridors of power because they just simple couldn’t do it any more…how humane. How utterly human.
And we need a little more of that.
When I read her announcement as it broke and watched her press conference, it was hard not to contrast it with when Boris Johnson was forced, literally forced to resign from office and all the wrangling he tried to do to stay on in power. There is power in humility you know, power in knowing when to leave and better still, defining the terms upon which you walk away. That is a class act. As I watched Ms Ahern’s conference, a woman who really set the bar high for other world leaders especially during the pandemic, a woman who showed up for her country during one of the darkest moments of its history; the Christ Church terrorist attacks. She showed up as one of them, not a leader, not a politician but as one of them with head covered, respectful of the religion and traditions, greeting them with “Assalamualaikum”. This showed the world at large what it means to put humanity before power, before titles, before politics. It was necessary and important.
It was empathy.
Was she the perfect politician? Absolutely not, matter of fact her party is slated for defeat in the next election, her policies were unpopular with most of the nation and the polls were unfavourable to her premiership. She was fighting a battle of survival and that shit is exhausting as fuck. Following a pandemic that ravaged the world, perspectives have shifted, even for politicians; power has become a liability for some and life moves into the urgent lane and you get the sense that they, some at least, think or are starting to think: what the hell is this all for?
Not four weeks on from Jacinda Ahern’s decision to step down, we woke up to the news that Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister for Scotland is resigning after 8 years in power as leader of the SNP, a pro independence party. She is arguably the most successful politician in Scotland, or the Union of the United Kingdom, because until recently she enjoyed good poll numbers and popularity in her own country. Sturgeon always struck me as a sensible politician who could get scrappy with the best of them to get the job done. She never shirked from answering a questions head on, in all her years in the job I have only ever seen her squirm during an interview once, and that was recently. She always held her hands up when she had mis-stepped, owned up to mistakes and sought to right her wrongs. She was forthright and extremely competent. But more important, with this announcement coming at a time when no one saw it coming- I mean some of us could sense this may be coming, but most did not- she strikes me as someone who knows when to leave the party despite saying a few weeks ago she had more in the tank to give. The writing could be seen taking shape on the wall what with the recent political upheavals that not only threatened her party’s goal of independence, but also divided a nation.
Watching a woman so cool and unflappable flail in the weeks leading up to her resignation revealed a human side and she is allowed to be that. She is also allowed, nay encouraged, to admit that no one person is greater than the cause or vision and in the few days before her resignation speech she had become the story and a distraction to the cause. Support for independence plummeted. She could have stayed on, she could have fought on, the numbers were still in hers and the SNP’s favour for the next election and she said as much, but also she acknowledged that her continued presence as leader of the SNP and that of the country, was no longer going to serve the greater good.
And isn’t that what is about in the end? What we elect our leaders for? What we all strive to do? To act for the greater good.
No matter your politics you have to admit it takes a lot of balls to make such a decision and these two woman have them by the pound and I say good on them.