Garner on the fading stardust and wonky political radar of Jacinda Ardern

Duncan Garner climbs into Labour and Jacinda Ardern over their tax cock-up.

Being a political party leader requires having a sharp and highly tuned radar. Judgment is crucial.

The radar must be on at all times. And someone must have your back.

Start with checks and balances.

Identify the risks to your popularity. Bury them from public view. Gain trust. And take voters with you on decisions. Make them feel like they’re included, especially if the policy is controversial and leaves your party vulnerable to attack.

For Labour that’s anything involving tax and spend, tax and borrow. And tax.

Rule No 1: sure, be bold and principled but not at the cost of your own popularity.

That’s why I simply can’t believe Labour took so long to realise its tax policy was its biggest weakness – the party was walking around with a big target marked TAX on its forehead. “Hit me now,” said the T-shirt. A far cry from “Let’s Do This”.

This week that slogan became, arrgh: Let’s not do this.

Labour shanked themselves because Grant Robertson is so desperately lazy and relied on consultants to do his work for him.

Why would anyone with half a brain and even the smallest dose of political nous tell voters that a controversial housing and land tax would be developed in secret and behind closed doors, and it just might be introduced as law without any kind of public mandate or vote.

Ask Robbo that question.

National couldn’t believe its luck. It threw Labour a spade. That party kept digging for days trying to defend the tax grenade it only had itself to blame for.

Nonsense numbers were thrown around. Taxes were ruled out and in. National kept pumping oxygen, facts and fiction into the debate – truth or not, it didn’t matter. National was framing Labour’s policy. Lose, lose, lose.

Never mind Steven Joyce’s phantom $11.7b hole. Labour was digging its own hole, this time a real one, complete with a trap door out in public for all voters to see.

But I’m still gobsmacked Ardern and finance spokesman Grant Robertson allowed all this to happen.

They allowed it to happen because Jacinda Ardern is not the policy wonk she claims to be and Grant Robertson is fat, dumb and lazy.

Labour knew its numbers would be seriously questioned and undermined, that’s why it hired a respectable economist to keep saying, “it’s fine nothing to see here. Yup, all stacks up.”

But Captain Jacinda forgot to ask the next question. In an attempt to look bold, strong and different the captain fluffed it. The Captain’s Call become the Captain’s Fall. In her first big call, she failed.

Jacinda became Taxinda, and she’s just learned a harsh lesson: Don’t believe the hype, heat and stardust, look at risk. And get rid of it.

The Media party love to boost people up, then they come along and pop their balloon. Notice how Jacinda is no longer all chummy with media and first naming them?

Ardern may have got in early enough to limit the damage. But it still raises serious questions about her judgment. Robertson doesn’t come out smelling of Botanic Garden roses either.

Truth is, Helen Clark’s radar rarely switched off. When John Key’s had the odd electrical fault it returned all guns blazing every time. Total professionals.

And to her credit, Ardern knew when to leap. She listened. She heard. She called for the liferaft.

The magical mystery stardust gets you only so far; never believe it, too much of it can put you off the main game.

She isn’t all that…and people are starting to find out.

Success in politics requires a connection with voters but it also means a leader must know when to go bold, but also when to go cautious. Saying no is important too. That’s difficult for the most seasoned political animals.

Ardern may have escaped this one but it’s a warning. No new taxes is nonsense too. Labour is still struggling to explain its water tax and won’t rule out introducing more than one petrol tax to fund infrastructure projects.

All parties tax and spend and try to hide the truth. National raised GST and slipped in 6 petrol taxes. It ain’t a saint. But the party dropped income tax rates. Labour won’t do that.

This race is so tight no one can call it. Labour needs to return to talking about the lack of housing, house prices, and crowded hospitals and schools. That will be truly taxing for National.

This week National one, Labour, nil.

But Ardern is off the canvas, nothing like a flip flop off the ropes to get you back in the fight. And back she is. Round 12 ends next Saturday. It’s been a taxing few weeks.

I’m not sure she is in the fight. Sure her name is on campaign, her face is on the campaign, but in reality she is a sock puppet for other people. Win or lose I don’t think she will last in politics.



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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.