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19 January

If only all political leaders resigned with dignity like Jacinda Ardern

From Truss to Trump, and Boris to Bolsonaro, the world is deficient in leaders prepared to do the decent thing.

By Martin Fletcher

Wow! How refreshing to see New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern resign of her own free will, with dignity, grace and humility, rather than be dragged from the prime minister’s office. If only other world leaders would learn from her example.

There’s Donald Trump, more than two years after his defeat by Joe Biden, still insisting that the US presidential election was stolen and preparing to run again in 2024 – uncaring or seemingly oblivious to the fact that his refusal to depart the scene merely tears his country apart.

In Brazil another populist with a giant ego, Jair Bolsonaro, is adopting the same destructive tactics. He has refused publicly to acknowledge his defeat by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last October, and stands accused of tacitly encouraging his supporters earlier this month to emulate the storming of the US Capitol.

In Israel the perennial Benjamin Netanyahu has just begun his third non-consecutive stint as prime minister with the slenderest of mandates, prompting his opponents to stage huge street protests at his extreme right-wing agenda and self-serving plans to curb judicial power.

British prime ministers are not a whole lot better. Margaret Thatcher clung to power well past her sell-by date until, after 11 years in office and with her popularity destroyed by her foolish poll tax, she was tearfully removed by her own backbenchers. Tony Blair lasted ten years before his catastrophic support for the US invasion of Iraq finally enabled Gordon Brown to prise him out of No 10. Had he left office a few years earlier he would today be feted.

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Brown survived barely three years before he was narrowly defeated by David Cameron in 2010, but even then he briefly sought to strike a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats instead of gracefully conceding. It is true that Cameron resigned of his own free will after losing the 2016 Brexit referendum, but his credibility was shot and his position was manifestly untenable.

And then came Boris Johnson, who won a “stonking” majority in 2019 before suffering a spectacular loss of popularity as one scandal followed another. As “partygate” raged he said it would take “a Panzer division” to drag him out of Downing Street. He clung on despite 148 (41 per cent) of his MPs opposing him in a confidence vote. He initially refused to step down even as scores of ministers resigned last July, changing his mind only when it became apparent that he could no longer fill all the vacant posts.

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Even now Johnson yearns to make a Churchillian-style comeback, though all but a handful of Tory diehards are heartily sick of him and just wish he would go away.

Finally there was Liz Truss, Johnson’s successor, who should have done the decent thing and resigned after Kwasi Kwateng’s catastrophic mini-Budget last September. She instead sought to survive by sacking the chancellor. “I’m a fighter not a quitter,” she told parliament on 19 October, before accepting the inevitable and ignominiously quitting six days later.

How much better to leave on your own terms, with your pride and integrity intact, as Ardern has done. It is true that her Labour Party face probable defeat next October, but she will have won respect for the manner of her departure. Who knows? She is still young, and should she ever seek to return to front-line politics she might – unlike any of the above – be welcomed back.

[See also: Ten crucial questions about the world in 2023]

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