Under the New Zealand MMP (mixed-member proportional) electoral system, it is difficult for either major party to gain a majority, making coalition governments the norm. On the current opinion poll figures, either a National/NewZealand First or a Labour/New Zealand First/Green combination are technically possible. However, the higher the vote of the two major parties, the easier it is to form a coalition, giving the National Party a real advantage. Labour hopes that Ms Arden's appointment will give it a poll boost, narrowing the gap with the Nationals. I don't think that there has been a poll since Ms Ardern's appointment, but it appears to have given Labour a boost.
New Zealand politics is generally not well covered in Australia. However, in this case, the question of a possible future pregnancy for the 37 year old Ms Arden did generate coverage on this side of the ditch.
The issue arose when the host of The Project in New Zealand, Jesse Mulligan, asked Ms Ardern, who does not have children, whether she had to decide between having a career and becoming a parent. As reported by the ABC:
"Let me put it this way. A lot of women in New Zealand feel like they have to make a choice between having babies and having a career, or continuing their career at a certain point in their lives — late 30s."
"Thank you for reminding the New Zealand public of my age," Ms Ardern interjected, to laughter.
Mulligan continued: "Is that a decision that you feel you have to make, or that you feel that you've already made?"The question generated a storm, one that I thought Ms Ardern has handled very well.
She said that she expected to be asked the question because she had previously discussed the issue in the context of choices and challenges for women, including (I think) her own desire to have a child. As I interpret her response, she and her partner Clarke Gayford would essentially take things as they come.
At the same time, while she was prepared to respond on an issue she had previously raised, she rounded on a radio show panellist Mark Richardson who is reported as saying that employers "need to know that type of thing from the women you are employing...The question is, is it OK for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?" .Ms Ardern said that while she had been prepared to respond, for other women it was totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace.
Mr Richardson reportedly then dug himself into a bigger hole: saying a potential employer had a right to know if they would have to let a staff member take "a year of leave.....I'm not saying don't employ that person". "Why would you ask if it wasn't going to prejudice your decision?", Ms Ardern responded.
Mr Richardson is a former cricketer turned TV presenter who clearly holds some antediluvian views. Among other things, I think that it would be illegal in New Zealand as well as Australia for an employer to actually ask that question. Stuff NZ reports on some of the responses to his remarks.
My mind went in a slightly different direction. I am not aware of cases, and this may just be lack of knowledge on my part, of elected female heads of state having babies while in office. However, there is one respected female profession where women have had babies while exercising considerable official political influence and indeed direct power and that is the role of Queen or Empress.
Queen Elizabeth the Second was queen when Prince Andrew was born.in 1960. Queen Victoria had nine children while Queen. Empress Maria Theresa had no less than sixteen children while reforming the Hapsburg Empire, while Catherine the Great of Russia managed to fit in multiple lovers and at least one illegitimate child while acting as authoritarian ruler.
I could give other examples. However, my simple and not especially profound point is that pregnancy of itself does not preclude a woman successfully occupying a top political position. Surely we can fit in at least one elected leader? .