Many will regret the New Zealand prime minister’s resignation, but it sets an important example, just as her time in office did
Jacinda Ardern’s resignation has sparked shock and dismay, and not only at home, where Labour must now rush to replace the prime minister without an obvious heir in sight. “Jacindamania” waned in New Zealand, but has continued to flourish in the wider anglophone world. Yet her decision should be applauded as well as lamented. Convinced of their own indispensability, politicians often cling on too long. Even successful leaders need to know when it’s time to go.
Nelson Mandela set the gold standard, stepping down after one term as president though so many were desperate for him to continue. The issue was less his ability to serve than the symbolic importance of a democratic transition in South Africa. In contrast, even admirers saw Winston Churchill’s return to office following his crushing postwar defeat by Labour as a mistake. He confided in Rab Butler that he felt “like an aeroplane at the end of its flight … with the petrol running out”.