Ardern battered by difficult week

‘Below the Beltway’ only lists some of the problems faced by Jacinda Ardern this week:

Curran – Um, ah, um….um. 
Her response to questions about her use of a personal email address wasprobably the most woeful performance ever by a minister in response to questions in the HouseShe has paid the price.

Ardern – After raising hopes, Ardern avoided ruffling diplomatic feathers and found excuses not to meet refugees detained on Nauru.

Winston Peters – He pulled the rug out from under Ardern on the refugee quota at a time when he knew it would get maximum exposure.

These weren’t the first difficulties Ardern had to deal with – she got some criticism (and quite a bit of support) for requiring a special flight to Nauru so she wasn’t away from her baby for too long.

Peters throwing his political weight around and making Ardern look impotent may have been one of the most damaging in the long run.

Newshub:  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern caves to Winston Peters after refugee remarks

The Prime Minister appears to have caved into Winston Peters over the Government’s pledge to increase the refugee quota – putting the plan to take an extra 500 every year in jeopardy.

That’s despite the government already funding two new accommodation blocks to house them.

Ms Ardern arrived in Nauru to an environment of confusion over her Government’s refugee policy, courtesy of Winston Peters.

Fran O’Sullivan: Jacinda Ardern faces growing challenge of Winston Peters

Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern are in danger of moving towards a co-prime ministership in all but name.

It won’t be formally described that way. But the New Zealand First leader — who is officially Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister — is demonstrating that he is prepared to go against Ardern if she announces policies that are either not already announced in the Speech from the Throne or are not contained in the coalition and support agreements which Labour signed following last year’s election.

She appears to have caved in to Peters over the Government’s pledge to increase the refugee quota.

Not only did this not look good this week, Peters is not going to go away, and neither will his fondness for pushing his political weight around – or more accurately, getting away with more than he deserves with a 7% share of the vote (so about a 14% vote in Government).

Meka Whaitiri is an ongoing awkward situation too – she appeared in parliament this week when it suited her, but avoided Question Time scrutiny all week.

On top of this Ardern also appeared weak over the Clare Curran meltdown. Her half demotion two weeks ago was questioned as not going far enough for what looked like an ongoing problem. She stood by through Wednesday’s embarrassment in Parliament, and Labour’s fumbling after Curran failed to show up on Thursday.

And Ardern was almost the biggest story on Friday when Curran resigned as a minister – the resignation was no surprise as it looked inevitable.

But Ardern’s misleading comments before the resignation became official received a lot of attention.

Technically Ardern may be ‘correct’ in what she said, but she must have known she was leaving an erroneous impression with what she said and more importantly, what she failed to say.

Her ‘openness and transparency’ took a hammering, with some justification.

NZH: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told two radio stations she was not firing Clare Curran

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave two radio interviews this morning without revealing that Clare Curran had resigned from her position as a minister.

On Newstalk ZB, Ardern said she had not considered firing the Broadcasting Minister over a series of mis-steps.

“No, because I think she’s paid her price.”

And in a light-hearted interview on the entertainment-focused Radio Hauraki, when asked, “Are you going to fire … Curran,” the Prime Minister said, “No”.

When asked to elaborate, Ardern said Question Time in Parliament “is a pretty heavy environment … ministers have good days and bad days”.

Describing the core of the issue in Curran’s case, she said: “When you strip it back she neglected to put something in her diary. There are not many places people would get such a backlash over that.”

When asked by reporters about her comment to Newstalk ZB, Ardern said: “The question that I was asked this morning was whether I’d asked her to resign, and the answer was no.”

Officially at least Ardern didn’t ask Curran to resign, Curran offered her resignation and Ardern accepted it. But Ardern failed to disclose the resignation.

When the resignation was announced later in the day media reported that Ardern had lied. The Prime Minister’s office must have got busy getting them to ‘correct’ this. David Farrar, whose Kiwiblog must be considered significant media by Ardern’s media team, details how this played out, which includes the sending out of an edited transcript:

Ardern later tried to explain her misleading responses. NZH:

Talking on Newstalk ZB tonight, Ardern said that if she had said yes to the questions asked of her this morning, it would not have been a fair representation.

“The question I was asked, to be fair, was whether I was sacking her”.

“I hadn’t received her resignation at that point. I hadn’t moved the warrants on. I hadn’t called or even spoke to the ministers who needed to take over the job. I hadn’t informed the cabinet office and so that would have been absolutely premature.

Premature to advise on those aspects, yes. But

“Once all that was in place I was in a position to make clear what she had decided to do.

“Making it sound as though I had instigated it would have not been a fair reflection.”

“I don’t like to mislead. I like to be accurate in my language, but at that point, I’m not even clear the minister had told her family.”

If she had been clear and transparent and explained that Curran had offered her resignation and had not been asked there would have been no problem – except for Ardern’s spin team perhaps.

So the week started of challenging Ardern, and the succession of issues she had to deal with were relentless.

There is a positive for Ardern. Under just her own pressure Curran crumpled, but Ardern weathered a much wider storm, battered perhaps but not broken.

Claire Trevett: Clare Curran the canary in the mine for Jacinda Ardern

As with cats, ministers resort to fight or flight responses when the pressure goes on.

On the fight side are those who emerge tougher than tungsten from the pressure. They ride things out as best they can, take the consequences handed down, whether justified or not, and wait for a better day to dawn.

Judith Collins is one exhibit, Bill English and Helen Clark are others who have the intestinal fortitude to forge through hard times and ultimately triumph.

John Key also.

Ardern hasn’t forged through and triumphed, but she appears to have the fortitude to deal with adversity and carry on leading – as much as Peters allows her to lead of course.