PM Jacinda Ardern has had an almost triumphal visit to New York, rounding it off with a maiden speech which drew respectful applause (rather than the laughs which greeted Donald Trump’s opening salvoes) in the UN General Assembly. And then there was her celebrity status on US chat shows where she spoke and enchanted (we hope) millions of Americans.
Heady stuff – though it may take some time to distill the after-match reaction, in terms of achieving positive outcomes for NZ.
But as she sets out on the journey home with baby Neve, she won’t be looking forward to the report card to be handed to her by acting PM Winston Peters.
It’s a lesson which other NZ leaders (Robert Muldoon, David Lange, Jim Bolger) have learned the hard way: while they are enjoying rubbing shoulders with world leaders, the mice back home get to play, not always with results commensurate with the status of global stardom.
Each day has brought headlines the government could do without, virtually all with a sting to them.
The Curran-Handley saga erupted once more (with the strapline: “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone”), Meka Whaitiri “bruising” her staffer, and a NZ Herald editorial admonition: “Serious damage control is required”.
Other ugly incidents included a tardy apology to Handley from Megan Woods, whose pusillanimity was also etched across the political spectrum in her performance with the oil and gas sector.
And it is not all over yet. Almost certainly the Handley saga has another chapter in it, as questions have been left hanging over how far Ardern was involved in exchanges on the CTO appointment and its revocation.
The latest revelations which brought the Labour Party president Nigel Haworth and key staffers within the PM’s office into the orbit of the Handley affair put the spotlight more closely on the issue: was it in fact a political appointment? Why would Haworth be involved? The NZ Herald contended “the public needs to be confident there is no political interference in a public appointment”.
It would be even worse if Handley were identified as either a party member or a donor
As Acting PM Winston Peters has been exemplary in defending Ardern over her involvement in the Handley shemozzle. And there will be many who believe Ardern’s performance in New York will far outweigh any of the peccadilloes of her colleagues on the home front.
But it will be hard to ignore the questions raised about Ardern’s leadership and government’s integrity in general.