Five things Jacinda Ardern needs to do, according to Tracy Watkins

Tracy Watkins reckons that Jacinda Ardern needs to do five things to wrest the initiative back into the positive rather than the negative narrative that is fast developing around this government.

She outlines those at Stuff:

Horror weeks can turn into horror years if the lessons aren’t learnt. And the mistakes of the last month should serve as a warning to Labour that it needs to up its game.

Here are five things it needs to do to get back on track:

Make the case

The Middlemore hospital crisis is the face of years of underfunding under National as Labour realises it needs to pour tens of millions of dollars into fixing toxic mold and decaying timber at one of the country’s biggest hospitals.

Ardern has suggested Middlemore is just the tip of the iceberg and the scale of problems inherited by Labour after years of belt-tightening is even worse than expected.

Expect Labour to roll out more examples like Middlemore between now and the May Budget.

It has to make the case for significantly more spending in those areas and make the narrative about “a decade of neglect” under National more than just a clever soundbite.

Otherwise National’s brand for stronger leadership and economic management will continue to dog Ardern. End of quote.

Of course, that is a double-edged sword, because Middlemore Hospital has been around for a long, long time and those issues didn’t happen just in the last nine years. Watkins moves on to her second suggestion:

Find an enforcer

Ardern’s strengths include her warmth and relationship-building skills. That’s how Labour got the deal with NZ First across the line.

But she is lacking a “bad cop” to her “good cop”. Clark could do good cop and bad cop simultaneously, but she also leant on the likes of Sir Michael Cullen, Annette King or her chief of staff, Heather Simpson, to deliver a dressing down when required.

Despite his affable exterior Key could also be the bad cop and his dressings down were legendary. But Key also had Steven Joyce, whose leadership ambitions ran up hard against the fact that he had slapped down too many of his colleagues to expect their support.

Labour is missing King, who would have fulfilled a similar role, and none of Ardern’s ministers have stepped up to fill the vacuum. They are too wrapped up in their portfolios and the thrill of being back in power. But their first priority should be too protect Ardern. And that means reining in NZ First and pulling weak ministers into line. End of quote.

Jacinda Ardern has only herself to blame here for not axing a minister early on. Watkins third suggestion is one that Jacinda should address urgently:

Less Woman’s Day, more of The Economist:

National is envious of Ardern’s soft media reach – she and partner Clark Gayford are everywhere on the women’s magazine stands, and in social media.

That’s inevitable in the life of any new leader, when the public appetite for getting to know more about them is insatiable.

But the demand for wall-to-wall soft media won’t lesson once Ardern gives birth, which is why over the next few months she should be prioritising media opportunities that focus on the job, rather than personality. End of quote.

Soft media and magazines are hollow, and eventually people see through them as nothing but sloganeering. At some point you need to deliver on expectations and all these soft interviews will come back to haunt. But Jacinda can’t focus on the job; she is all about personality and it is increasingly obvious there isn’t much beyond a smile. The fourth suggestion is obvious:

Be National-lite

Labour voters are of course chafing at the bit to see their agenda implemented after nine years in the wilderness. But they’re not going anywhere, unlike the soft voters in the centre who can just as easily flake off to National.

The Key Government’s first Budget defied National’s right-wing faction, who saw the global financial crisis as an opportunity for radical policies. Key and his Finance Minister Bill English instead enacted policies designed to support the lowest paid and most vulnerable through tough times.

That element of surprise was carried through successive budgets, including the boost to beneficiary incomes for the first time in decades.

It wasn’t at the expense of National policies, but it helped make many of the so-called third-rail policies under previous administrations more palatable, like asset sales. End of quote.

Being National-lite has risks. Centre-soft voters might just say… you know what, if they are going to be National-lite then I may as well have the real thing. The last suggestion won’t ever happen. Labour have developed an arrogance that took nine years for National to develop: Quote

Stop underestimating National

Labour was nearly sunk at the election by a clever campaign by National on taxes. Ardern is fighting the ghost of National’s 2017 campaign all over again after this week’s announcement about increasing the petrol excise.

Labour is flailing to explain that its campaign manifesto promising no new taxes explicitly excluded excise taxes. And it points out that National also raised excise taxes each year while in power. But no one reads the fine print and explaining is losing.

Labour should have made the case first. End of quote.

Looks like Tracy reads Whaleoil.


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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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