Brexit Britain needs a leader like Jacinda Ardern, not Theresa May – Susan Dalgety

Jacinda Ardern hugs a mosque-goer at the Kilbirnie Mosque in Wellington after the worst mass shooting in New Zealand's history (Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty)
Jacinda Ardern hugs a mosque-goer at the Kilbirnie Mosque in Wellington after the worst mass shooting in New Zealand's history (Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty)
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New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is so obviously in tune with the people she represents, while Theresa May is lost amid the chaos of Brexit, writes Susan Dalgety.

It has been hard to focus on anything this week but Brexit. Theresa May flits like a ghost across my television screen every hour or so, her anguished voice extolling the virtues of her meaningful vote.

“I’m still working on ensuring that Parliament can agree a deal so that we can leave in an orderly way,” she croaks. No-one believes her.

Our country is in chaos, our future uncertain. We are about to run out of loo roll for God’s sake, and yet Theresa is still standing. A more mindful woman would have kicked off her LK Bennett heels, poured a very large gin, and phoned John Bercow to say she was never coming back to work, ever. But more of Theresa later.

The Prime Minister apart, it has been a pretty good week for women. Hidden away at the end of TV bulletins, or on the back pages, has been some very positive progress for gender equality.

My particular favourite is the new-look Newsnight. Now I have a confession to make. I gave up watching BBC’s flagship political programme when I reached a certain age. These days, it is all I can do to make it through to 9pm before collapsing into bed with Twitter.

But I may have to review my sleeping habits, or at least catch up on iPlayer. Newsnight now has its first all-female line-up, with Emily Maitlis, Kirsty Wark and Esme Wren taking over the programme.

The trio join Fiona Bruce at Question Time, Beth Rigby, Sky’s new political editor, and Channel 4’s Cathy Newman as women at the forefront of political reporting. As the grumpy old men – John Humphrys, anyone? – hang up their headsets, it seems they are being replaced by women. And not before time. Political reporting, like politics itself, has, until now, been dominated by men, and here in Scotland things are no different.

The media tower in Holyrood has always had the air of a men’s changing room, complete with slightly off-colour jokes and football banter. This stubborn male dominance has helped perpetuate the myth that Scottish politics, and the media, remain jobs for the boys. Time for a change perhaps?

READ MORE: Brexit: Theresa May’s ‘job on the line’ as Tories lose patience

The second good news item of the week is Barclays sponsorship of women’s football. The banking giants have agreed a £10 million deal for the FA’s Women’s Super League, and their package also includes money for the FA Girls’ Football School Partnerships programme, to encourage girls to take up the sport.

This welcome influx of serious money into the women’s game is seen by many as a tipping point. Chelsea manager, Emma Hayes, is confident that this is just the start of major investment.

“There had to come a point where somebody said ‘I’m investing in this for all the right reasons’, not just as an add-on. I’ve been saying for some time that I felt this would be the watershed moment, where we would commercialise the game,” she said earlier this week.

Scottish women’s football may not, yet, benefit from millions in sponsorship – though a big shout out to the Scottish Building Society for their support – but it is increasingly popular.

There are 16 teams in the Premier League, and between 2012 and 2017, the number of registered players more than doubled to nearly 13,000. These days girls are just as likely as boys to enjoy a Saturday kick about, and thanks to the SFA, they have one of 28 Girls’ Soccer Centres to choose from. And our national women’s team has qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, coming top of their group. I will just repeat that, for those of you who are still reeling from the men’s abject defeat at the hands of mighty Kazakhstan on Wednesday night ... the Scottish women’s team is going to the FIFA World Cup finals in France this year.

READ MORE: Brexit: Theresa May must resign if her deal is defeated again – leader comment

But the most positive female image of the week was not a woman broadcaster in a power suit or a centre forward in her national top, but a woman in a scarf.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has faced one of the stiffest tests any leader can encounter. This young woman has had to hold her country together as it comes to terms with a heinous act of terrorism that saw 50 of its citizens gunned down while at prayer.

She has acted decisively, announcing a ban of all semi-automatic weapons less than a week after the massacre.

She has shown moral authority, decrying white supremacy across the world. “This is not just an issue for New Zealand,” she said, “...all of us need to present a united front.”

And she has displayed a natural empathy that so many leaders lack, donning a black scarf as a sign of respect as she comforted relatives, hugging them close to her.

“You have a disarmingly different leadership style,” suggested one British journalist.

“I am just being me, it’s my job ...” she responded, disarmingly.

I doubt if Ardern thought, when she became Prime Minister at only 37 two years ago, that her job would entail dealing with the aftermath of her country’s worst act of terrorism.

But she rose to the terrible challenge, displaying a maturity and calm authority that other global leaders twice her age, or with twice her experience, can only dream of.

It has been hard this week not to make a comparison between Jacinda Ardern and Theresa May. The younger woman is so clearly in charge, so obviously in tune with the people she represents, whereas our Prime Minister is a woman lost.

She does not have the support of her party colleagues, nor of parliament. And despite her desperate plea on Wednesday night, she does not have the people on her side.

She cuts a lonely, exhausted figure as she begs her European counterparts for more time to seal her deal. And she offers our frightened country no hope that things will get better any time soon. She has failed every test of leadership, including knowing when to quit.

Time may be running out for the hapless Theresa, who will likely go down in history as one of the worst Prime Ministers ever, but as Jacinda Ardern has shown, women have got what it takes to run the world.

Just as our women’s national football team has shown the boys how to play the beautiful game.