Jacinda Ardern's landslide victory in New Zealand was widely welcomed throughout the world. Of course, for Labour supporters here, that welcome was also tinged with a real sense of envy. Much of her success came from her unique connection to voters, the ability to communicate with people in an open and honest way that just didn't sound like a traditional politician. She came across as authentic. Okay, it helped that she was operating in the context of a country with a strong liberal tradition, an environmental awareness and a multicultural landscape. Remember, New Zealand was the first independent country in the world to bring in women's suffrage in 1893.
Ardern has the knack of sounding consensual while promoting Labour policies and values – narrowing income and wealth gaps, increasing social spending, tackling climate change, focusing on child and maternal care. Her empathetic response to the Christchurch slaughter of Muslims at prayer won her the world's respect but her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic sealed the deal with the electorate. New Zealand imposed one of the toughest lockdowns that saw the economy contract 12.2%, but also resulted in only 25 COVID-19 fatalities. It was hard to believe our eyes as we saw crowds at her packed election rallies; and as she hugged and shook hands with supporters and volunteers. Thanks to her handling of the crisis this could happen safely.
The Dalai Lama congratulated her on her victory admiring 'the courage, wisdom and leadership, as well as the calm, compassion and respect for others, she has shown in these challenging times'. Compare that to the harsh things he has had to say about Trump's presidency, his low key congratulations to Boris Johnson and his palpable disappointment at Brexit.
It's not that our politicians haven't promised a new type of politics. They've all had a go at that. It's just that they haven't delivered. Jeremy Corbyn began his leadership offering 'a kinder politics' and an end to 'personal abuse'. He urged his supporters to 'treat people with respect' and said there would be 'no rudeness from me'. He held to that high standard himself but had plenty around him who didn't. Here in Scotland, the SNP assured us that their nationalism was of the 'joyous' and 'civic' kind, yet it so often comes across as one long abusive tantrum at their perceived victimhood.
Somehow we need to learn from New Zealand how we can have political leadership that is 'popular' without being 'populist'. Speaking to supporters at Auckland town hall after her victory was declared, Ardern thanked the nation for the strong mandate. She said elections 'don't have to be divisive' and promised to govern with positivity.
As a veteran of staying up all night to endure TV election results programmes, I found the New Zealand results programme refreshingly different. For a start, the counting and declarations were carried out at a more civilised hour than we do here in the UK. The presenters had a light engaging touch, and the panels talked intelligently about what was unfolding with insight and even some humour. It took me some time to be sure who was representing which party on the panel.
I am not so naive as to think their campaign wouldn't have had its moments, but on the whole it seemed an uplifting experience. Viewed from where I stand, the UK and New Zealand really are poles apart, and not just geographically.
I've been stepping it out around Edinburgh this week, along the Union Canal, through the Water of Leith walkway, passing landmarks such as Murrayfield the home of Scottish Rugby, if that is your thing. Not so much a rugby fan, I do though have a long held interest in stadia, so the towering edifice of the national stadium is for me an impressive site as I manoeuvre around the Water of Leith. A new added attraction on the back pitches is the construction of the smaller stadium, which I understand will be the HQ for Edinburgh Rugby. The pitch was in the process of being laid last week and looked magnificent in its newness, surrounded by the shiny, pristine, compact stands. Almost makes me want to go to a match (if only).
Edinburgh has its fair share of stadiums (or should that be stadia?) and on one of my favourite walks I can pass Watsonians, Boroughmuir, Murrayfield and Wee Murrayfield (as I suspect it may become known in time) and then finally Edinburgh Accies' impressive new ground, which is still under construction. Interestingly, most rugby stadiums seem to be reasonably recent builds, so it feels like Scottish Rugby might not be short of a bob or two.
It's not all about stadiums though, for example, on the same walk I pass through the reinvigorated and restored Saughton Park, with its magnificent, serene gardens juxtaposed with the rough and tumble of the adjacent skatepark, both of which always seem to be busy no matter the weather conditions. Further down the river walkway, I arrive at Dean Village and its stunning picturesque vista, with its narrow, cobbled streets, braes and bridges. Then on toward Stockbridge, for me the jewel in the crown, passing the impressive St Bernard's Well on the way through.
Stockbridge just really has a feel to it, that for me no other part of Edinburgh does. Perhaps it's the feeling of being a village trapped in a city that appeals (much like the Dean Village) but I find myself especially drawn to this part of town, with its café culture, independent and unique shops along St Stephen's Street and numerous interesting buildings and properties. I've even been known to, at times, browse the Sunday food market.
I am not a naturalised Edinburgher. I've only lived in the city for around 34 years after all and abiding by the rules of where I come from that makes you an incomer. Another iconic area, Byres Road and its surrounds in Glasgow, runs neck-and-neck with Stockbridge in my affections, with the clincher probably being the University Café. However, they take silver and bronze positions respectively when judged against my favourite place – not surprisingly another stadium – with this one situated just off London Road in the East End of Glasgow.
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