Ardern not openly election ‘politicking’ (but slyly doing it anyway)

I think that through her ongoing Covid-19 PR Jacinda Ardern has obviously got one eye on the election, but she has claimed she ‘her mind hasn’t been focussed’ on the election.

Henry Cooke (Stuff): Jacinda Ardern looks to stay above electoral politics – and Judith Collins

After a speech setting out how New Zealand would respond if another Covid-19 outbreak was to occur, the Prime Minister was asked about the front-page news of the day: Judith Collins.

Jacinda Ardern demurred, offering neither congratulations nor commiserations for the National Party and its new leader.

“I’m spending more time about New Zealand’s response and economic recovery from Covid-19.”

“I accept there will be politicking this year. I accept we have an election. But if I’m being brutally honest, my mind hasn’t been focused on that to date.”

“I absolutely accept that there is an election this year – and there is no avoiding that – but at the moment it’s taking up a bare minimum of my attention.”

Yeah, right.

This is a bit of a change from her message when National last changed leaders two months ago. At that point Ardern sent barbed commiserations, saying the party was “recovering” and was “not the party of Key and English any more”.

It’s also quite an odd way of putting it. Ardern doesn’t have the choice to “accept” whether there is an election this year. Elections are the means by which the Government has legitimacy and power; not minor inconveniences on the path to Covid-19 recovery.

The election this year is as important – and vital for democracy – as ever. Ardern is not above elections.

This kind of language plays into a wider strategy that is emerging from Ardern and Labour to basically pretend there isn’t an election. With the global pandemic continuing to dominate the news cycle it makes total sense to stick to governing, or at least look like you are.

“Politicking” is something other parties who are in trouble do, what with their leadership changes and leaking drama, you just get to govern. After all, people like Prime Minister Ardern much more than Labour leader Ardern, and the best campaign is a well-governed country.

So to an extent at least it is a smart strategy.

Another part of Ardern’s strategy is to frequently personally present information and ‘good news’, but to leave the not so good Covid news to others. I think this clearly has the election in mind.

But it can be taken too far. Thus far Labour has released a single election policy, which deals with afforestation of farmland and seems mostly engineered to give Kieran McAnulty a good shot in Wairarapa. When you ask about other policy areas, MPs either say “maybe soon” or point to wider government policy on an issue.

But the Government is not the Labour Party, it is a set of compromises between Labour and two parties with wildly different views.

Kiwis can’t vote for “the Government” – much like they can’t vote for Ardern herself. They can vote for a party, and they deserve a coherent set of values and promises to make that decision on.

Maybe Ardern and Labour will eventually front up with some policies and priorities if the get back into Government next term.

Collins is not likely to stick with the vague business-speak.

I suspect this is why some people seem to be frantically trying to discredit Collins. With Collins leading National Ardern is more vulnerable to be called out for a lack of policies and details.’

Collins promised to not underestimate Ardern as a foe. Ardern is unlikely to be underestimating Collins in return. But she can only float above the partisan fray for so long. At some point she will need to dig in and fight a real ideological battle with the National Party – especially as its leader is now making promises to “take our country back”. That’s what elections are for.

And it is important for the people of New Zealand that a decent election battle is fought, on substance rather than just on ‘celebrity’ status.

I hope Collins forces Labour into doing justice to the campaign. And I hope Ardern steps up and argues over far more than her current popularity.

And I hope the capabilities of both the Labour and National front benches in particular get a lot of scrutiny, as well as the potential effects of any coalition arrangements.

Ardern’s Pacific ‘reset’ tour

A month ago Jacinda Ardern went on a tour of Samoa, Niue, Tonga and Rarotonga in the nearby South Pacific, in what was promoted as ‘a reset’ with Pacific island relations.

Newsroom previewed the tour: Ardern leads ‘Pacific Reset’ tour

A “Pacific reset” for New Zealand’s foreign policy is on the way, with Jacinda Ardern leading a delegation around the Pacific this week to hear about the big issues facing the countries.

Ardern’s first foreign policy speech last week focused more on the Pacific than any other part of the world, as she spoke of New Zealand’s long and well-established ties, as well as its duty to act on the threat of climate change in the region.

“We can do better, and we will.”

It was followed up by Peters’ pledge for a “Pacific reset” in a major speech of his own in Sydney.

He outlined the Government’s view of a shared Pacific destiny, speaking of increased aid and “back to basics diplomacy”.

That diplomacy starts this week, with Ardern, Peters and a bevy of ministers and MPs heading around Samoa, Tonga, Niue and the Cook Islands for the annual Pacific mission.

This push for greater engagement appears to come from a genuine passion for the Pacific from the Government, and what it sees as an opportunity to improve on its predecessor’s performance.

veutoviper has posted a useful summary of this tour at The Standard, as reported by Stuff’s Henry Cooke. This illustrates good diplomacy and foreign relations, and also good reporting.

Here are links to all ten of the articles Henry Cooke did as he accompanied the five day Parliamentary Mission to the Pacific which were published progressively by Stuff on their website over that timeframe. In sequence, these ten articles by Henry Cooke were:

1. A preliminary scene-setting one written before the visit started, detailing the bigger picture issues relevant to the relationships etc between NZ and the Pacific islands, and anticipated achievements from the trip:

2. An article specifically on climate change and its effects on Samoa, speeches given by our PM and Climate Change Minister James Shaw to an audience of Samoan MPs and officials at a climate change luncheon, and their visits to local spots showing the effects of climate change:

3. Another article specifically on the donations to Samoa announced by the PM of $3 million more in disaster recovery aid and $6.5m in development funds for small businesses run by women and young people:

4. A final article on Samoa on the hospitality and celebrations that took place; climate change; and the aid announcements:

5. and 6. Two articles on the one day visit to Niue – One on the aid assistance announced, which included $5m for another solar panels farm to help Niue reach their goal of 80% renewable energy by 2025; and the second a lighter one focusing in part on the PM’s reunion with her family in Niue:

7. One article on Tonga covering aid including emergency relief for the cyclone Gita damage and the visit itself, which included the delegation seeing this damage first hand:

8. and 9. Two articles on the visit to the Cook Islands – One specifically on the biggest announcement of the whole trip on the relaxation of the rules for the payment of NZ Superannuation to Niueans, Cook Islanders and Tokelauans, and the other on the very colourful and friendly visit itself, but which also includes further discussion on the relaxed NZ Super rules:

10. And finally, Henry Cooke’s wrap up article summarizing what was achieved by the visit itself, and also looking at the bigger, longer term issues:

Cooke’s summary:

As Ardern was quick to point out in her final media stand-up of the trip, this was still in many ways a listening and promising tour, not a delivery one, other than with the pension changes. As with many things in this Government, the real record will be in the delivery.

So how will that delivery look? A lot more investment instead of aid, as the leaders kept talking about. A managed transition out of developed nation status for the Cook Islands. A proper change in climate change policy.

Peters also motioned towards the biosecurity problems that stop us importing much fruit from these islands, which he said was put in the “too hard basket” and needs to be fixed. The metaphor is apt: plenty of the problems the Pacific faces have been chucked into the too-hard basket. For this reset to work the whole thing is going to have to be emptied out.