The gloss is wearing off Princess Fairy-dust

The gloss is wearing off Jacinda Ardern. You know it when the Press Gallery start sharpening their knives.

Tracy Watkins is the latest to have an opinion on the Princess that isn’t glowing and dripping with Koolaid.

She says:

Jacinda Ardern’s rise was so sudden it’s easy to wonder if her fall could happen just as fast. Especially after yet another week from hell for the PM.

But the trumpets of doom sounding for a Labour apocalypse are premature.

All governments have bad weeks, but they don’t all leave lasting scars.

One of Ardern’s most famous predecessors, Helen Clark, had to contend with a business backlash against a Labour government, and a winter of discontent.

Clark was also forced to sack her Maori affairs minister Dover Samuels after a police investigation into sex allegations. Another minister was engulfed in a bullying scandal and yet another police investigation.

One of her high-profile ministers, John Tamihere, was secretly recorded talking about women’s “front bums”. Her Pacific affairs minister Taito Philip Field was accused of corruption in the so-called “Thai tiler” affair. And that’s just the highlights reel.

Yet Clark reigned supreme for nine long years.

It was probably only the last scandal – Field’s corruption – that helped do her government in. And that was because Clark threw away her usual uncompromising play book for taking swift and decisive action.

End of quote.

Good points there from Tracy Watkins, even though they are simplistic in nature. Clark’s government was worn down by scandals, true, but it was also worn down by a perception of nanny-statism and focussing on things that didn’t matter and were annoying to voters, like shower heads and light bulbs, not to mention the smacking bill.

But Jacinda Ardern is no Helen Clark. Neither is she a John Key, as Tracy Watkins explains:

Former National prime minister John Key was back at Parliament this week briefly for Steven Joyce’s valedictory, which reminded us that it was hardly plain sailing for his government either.

Key sacked a minister early on for still-murky reasons. Another minister was forced to resign for rorting her taxpayer funded travel perk. His government was engulfed by a string of other controversies over the years – teapot tapes, anyone?

There was even a scandal with overtones of the Clare Curran, Carol Hirschfeld debacle playing out around RNZ, after allegations that Key hired an old mate to run the GCSB.

But Clark and Key both earned a reputation for being “teflon” leaders for a reason. While the commentary and political beltway whipped itself into a frenzy over those things, most of it was water off a duck’s back as far as voters were concerned.

Key was so “teflon”, in fact, that we all got egg on our face at various times for assuming the latest controversy would follow the usual rules and damage his government.

But the relationship between voters and governments is much more complex than that. National’s poll ratings barely budged through the eight years Key  led the country.

Key’s return to Parliament this week showed why he stayed on top for so long.

He was typically loose as a goose in his speech farewelling Joyce and not bothered by who was in the audience, which included a fair number of the press gallery.

Key rarely sweated the small stuff as leader, even when the Opposition and the media had worked themselves into a lather. That was where he and Clark were vastly different. Clark was a legendary micro-manager.

It was that obvious trait of Key never taking himself too seriously that voters responded to. But as with Clark, they had huge respect for his competence.

Key also had a nose for which issues would play with the public and which would more likely pass over their heads as they got on with their own busy lives.

But like Clark, Key had a ruthless streak as wide as the river Nile. Neither was sentimental when decisive action was required.

End of quote.

Both Key and Clark knew how to cut throats. Hell, he even tried to cut mine, but failed. Watkins is right too; both Clark and Key were extremely competent. By saying that, Watkins is actually saying, not in so many words, that Jacinda Ardern isn’t competent at all. She continues:

Ardern is not Clark. And she is not Key. Even her opponents would agree she is almost painfully nice, compassionate, caring, empathetic and incredibly earnest.

Those are the qualities voters responded to against the backdrop of concern about children sleeping in cars, inequality, a generation left behind by rising house prices and a sense of National being a less caring government.

They are not qualities that make for an easy fit with the sort of ruthlessness that was central to Clark and Key’s success. But that is not necessarily fatal.

End of quote.

They are fatal because, like a Mafia Don who won’t kill his own, there is simply no respect. Watkins also mistakes Ardern’s prime ministership as one of being elected by a large majority. She was not. Sure her party gained a few more points than they would have had under Andrew Little, but without Winston Peters and a tamed Green party she could not be Prime Minister at all.

Ardern, like Key, has rewritten the political rule book, if there is even such a thing any more. She leads at a time when politics is in a state of flux worldwide, when news cycles flash past ever faster, and when fewer and fewer people get their news from traditional media.

But it probably wouldn’t hurt if Ardern’s rapid learning curve included acquiring a streak of mongrel.

It’s debatable whether Ardern could have done more over the debacle that forced the resignation of Radio NZ head of news Carol Hirschfeld over a coffee meeting with the Broadcasting Minister, Clare Curran.

While the story is grabbing most of this week’s headlines, it will disappear as quickly as it surfaced unless – as the gossip doing the rounds in Wellington suggests – new information emerges from next week’s select committee hearing with the RNZ board chair and chief executive.

It’s no secret that there are swirling suspicions at RNZ that Hirschfeld was being informally auditioned for promotion as Curran ran into headwinds at RNZ over her lofty ambitions to remake it as a linear public service TV channel.

Ardern has put Curran on the mat and got an assurance that no such matters were discussed. Any deviation from those assurances would be enough for Ardern to sack her, which probably wouldn’t do her leadership any harm.

Either way, the Curran problem will be tidied away sooner rather than later.

End of quote.

I’m not so sure about that, because Curran is an accident waiting to happen. Watkins continues:

Ardern’s bigger headache is NZ First and its cavalier treatment of its Labour ally.

Helen Clark blasted Labour across the bows this week for letting Ardern down over the youth camp scandal. She could just as easily have taken aim at NZ First leader Winston Peters and his cohorts.

End of quote.

Clark would never do that; Winston knows where Clark’s bodies are buried. Tracy Watkins is now wishing for the impossible:

After Shane Jones ran amok over Air New Zealand last week, Ardern had to spend this week putting out fires over NZ First bully-boy tactics and Peters, the Foreign Minister, running his own foreign policy line on Russia.

Ardern needs to find her inner mongrel and remind Peters that she is the de facto foreign minister in this government and his job is to support her on foreign policy, not the other way round.

And after that, Ardern should summon her kitchen cabinet and thrash out a plan for seizing back the momentum and putting her Government back on track.

There should be a rolling maul of measures between now and the May Budget.

That’s how Clark and Key would have done it.

End of quote.

But that won’t happen. Jacinda Ardern is just weeks away from maternity leave. She can barely keep up now. When she walks out the door then Winston Peters is Prime Minister and good luck winkling him out of that seat. Ardern doesn’t have any mongrel in her, and even if she did it is exhausted, stressed and more than a little bit wobbly. I bet she doesn’t front too many events other than school ribbon cuttings and play-centre cake stalls.

We now have a Prime Minister in name only.



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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.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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