From Washington to Wellington – Did Ardern just save her job?


Will the Prime Minister’s successful trip to the United States help him win a third term?

Probably not. But at least someone sprung from his work, and President Joe Biden went above and beyond what would normally be required at one of those meetings.

The truth is, the meeting was never confirmed when Ardern landed in America. Officials in the background were working hard to reward Ardern with the prized reunion, but she took a risk and given the mass shooting in Texas, it was by no means a certainty.

In fact, it looked risky and Ardern was about to go home without the prize. That’s the risk she took – it paid off – she made a good call. The rest is history and there will be pictures to show the grandchildren.

But it will certainly do him no harm and perhaps even halt a downward trend in his and Labour’s poll results. That’s if the voting public is engaged at all, given the day-to-day struggles Covid still presents with inflation and the price of just about everything.

But maybe the phone is off right now, given that National — which has done nothing more than tuck in its shirt — is leading in the polls.

Christopher Luxon barely said “boo” and Labor had its big budget day, but Labor is still behind National.

Noted that this can be overwhelming and can be difficult for a Prime Minister to emerge from a dark negative period in the political cycle where no headlines are positive and he needs a circuit breaker.

That being the case, then perhaps this trip to America is just the steroid Ardern needs to get back on the horse.

US President Joe Biden.

Style rather than substance

But Ardern will almost certainly have returned home on a trip that culminated in her warm and relaxed meeting with US President Joe Biden. It’s just a shame that it’s all about style over substance.

What are New Zealand and America and Australia doing about China in the Pacific? What’s the plan since we were caught napping? Does America have any idea what is going on with China throwing its weight behind the tiny island nations of the Pacific?

And is it time for New Zealand to consider becoming part of a naval alliance based in the region, a base with some firepower to warn China that it will not be able to do everything in coming years ?

The same could be said for the other substantive issues – there was very little meat on the bones and the big issue was the meeting itself.

And history shows that while foreign affairs matter and how a prime minister handles international diplomacy matters, he neither wins nor loses elections. It is largely a given that they will do well. Do it wrong and then it registers with the public.

Except the difference this time is the effusive praise President Biden has given Jacinda Ardern, which she rarely receives these days here at home.

I have been to the White House twice and have never seen such praise for former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark from President Bush and I have not been able to determine whether the former Prime Minister New Zealander John Key and President Obama were political friends or golf buddies, but their relationship went beyond politics and it’s clear the two enjoyed each other’s company.

There was plenty of mutual respect offered, but this time Biden referenced personal notes, and Ardern made sure she didn’t get in the way of his flow.

Thank you Mr President

Traditionally, it’s been pretty tough trying to get a meeting with the president, but for Ardern, sitting there and hearing Biden validate his work on gun control, social media reform and climate change must have been a pump moment for the Prime Minister personally.

If only Jacinda Ardern’s admirers who live overseas could get New Zealand passports and the right to vote, she would be prime minister for years to come.

It’s nothing new for a New Zealand Prime Minister to be popular abroad, and maybe it’s only at lunchtime, but it seems very real right now. Because the truth is, it’s all marketing and designed to impress and wow the home audience. If you were looking for something to hang your hat on, hop on social media and check out Ardern’s accounts.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Washington vs. Waikato

So how come Ardern is adored overseas and no longer tops the polls at home?

It’s just, really. These people abroad do not follow her every step and have only a passing interest in details.

Yet here we live and breathe it and many voters are exhausted by Covid and its micromanagement of their lives. It may happen in the third term, but for Ardern, it happened in the second term.

Put this on the topic: overexposed in a brutal pandemic, voters aren’t looking for its strengths, they’re too angry, and they’re fishing for the negatives, whether they’re true or not.

And she could yet be the ultimate victim of the very pandemic that earned her a record result and a term to rule alone. This is a one-issue government, managing a pandemic when everyone else has other hopes and dreams that they wish for work to magically turn into reality.

But he couldn’t.

It has been an underpowered and inexperienced government that pushed its way almost every day. It has been run mainly by just two ministers, Ardern and Robertson, who trust very little to get the job done and even less to get the information.

Phone picked up

Still, the election year awaits and a new problem may have emerged by then – a recession.

Could this happen? I think it’s starting to turn in that direction. High interest rates, less money, households suffer more every day. Knock on the door and you will see and hear him at the front door.

Inflation won’t just go away and the pain will get worse as the winter months progress. If it’s a one-on-one battle over the economy, Ardern vs. Christopher Luxon, then Luxon starts in front because he doesn’t have as much excess baggage.

Still, Jacinda has the platform power and the money to spend. His problem is the phone – he appears to be off the hook, just two years after his vote was taken off the planet.

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