The PM was angry – but her halo is slipping and Aucklanders are riled, too, by roadblocks and closed businesses

Prime   Minister  Jacinda  Ardern has admitted  to   the  NZ Herald’s  Claire Trevett  that ”Covid  is  constantly in my mind”.

In an interview  at the weekend, extending  over two pages of  the newspaper, Trevett observed:

“Ardern is  now  very confident in her Prime Ministerial  skin. There is  nothing  tentative  about her  leadership.

“She has admitted suffering from a  touch of self  doubt in the past— but if she, or others, ever thought  she  was  not up  to the  job, the  past year has  dispelled  it  completely. There  is  also optimism in her.”

Trevett  went  on to  assert –

“The  most recent  community cases have been dealt  with, with limited  disruption  to people’s  lives” .

On  that, there  may be  a  question mark.  The  interview  appeared   the  very day  another  community Covid case had  led to  a fourth lockdown of  Auckland.  The  decision had been taken by  Cabinet  on Saturday  afternoon  and announced  by Ardern at 9pm.

The  Dominion-Post  on Monday  led  the  paper  with a  report that  began:

“Perhaps  sensing  blood in the  water for the  government, as  Auckland  begins its second lockdown in a fortnight, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pointed to the  personal failures of a few and stoked  the  fear of  death by Covid”.

Ardern  in other  reports  conceded  she was “angry”.

But  probably  not as angry as  those  Aucklanders  who have been held up  for up to eight hours  in long queues  on the Auckland  motorways passing through police roadblocks – or by Auckland  businesses  required to close their doors yet again.

So  is  the PM’s halo  beginning  to slip?

Ardern  has  won  admiration abroad   and  almost veneration  at  home  for  her  leadership.

In  her  interview with Claire Trevett she talked  about the “constant, grinding” anxiety that  comes  with leading  during a  pandemic.

But  it is  also  becoming  a constant  grind  for  the  country.  And  for  the  first time , despite the  government’s effort to deflect  the  blame, there is  criticism:  contact tracing has  not been up to scratch; Cabinet  came out of the previous  lockdown  too quickly; the government has failed  to fully apply the Simpson/Roche recommendations.

Ministers have  been long on complacency and not  short on self-congratulation.

The  problem for  New Zealand is  that  we can claim to have escaped the  worst  impacts of the  pandemic, but  real economic  and  social  pain is  deepening in the  community:  witness the lengthening  queues  at   food banks. And child poverty is becoming extensive.

Where  there  were  4000  families on the  Priority A  list  for public  housing  in 2017, three years and three months later  there are 20,339.

New  education data  shows  children’s education  achievement is  slipping.

Hardship  is  not  confined  to  the  Auckland businesses  teetering  on the brink of  insolvency:  it  is  being  felt  across  the  country, particularly  in regions like  Otago  and the    West  Coast  (ironically  heartland Labour territory) .

All this  prompted  Point  of Order  to  consult  a  range  of  authorities  on   what  might be  going   on within the  Beehive.  Their   views  were  quite  diverse.  Here  is  a  summary:

  • The Prime Ministers is obsessed by Covid. While she was lionised for her early handling, it’s time to hand over to the Minister  she put in charge and get on with the process of governing.
  • Ardern entertains notions of global leadership and the capacity/need to go offshore to visit other world leaders.
  •  There  are clear signs the cabinet isn’t working effectively – too many newbies and with only a handful of near-veterans.
  • Finance and education ministers are showing signs of overwork.
  • Business is becoming disenchanted by the emphasis on social policies which reflect the absence of any knowledge of how business actually works – and by the government’s reluctance to learn.
  • Many ministers are slow on the uptake and don’t appreciate the need for reading widely and coordinating.
  • Ardern appears to handle only one thing at a time – she complains that she has a full caucus to balance.
  • Cabinet is very much in thrall to the active and demanding Maori caucus which in turn is wary of the impact of the two Maori Party MPs.
  • Only recently, after much hand-wringing by departments, has  the PM  called ministers together to discuss (and/or learn) the range of issues confronting NZ
  • There has only been  a belated recognition of the importance of Australia and how the international environment is shifting rapidly. Ardern still  is  the commanding  figure  in  the  government — assisted  by  the  under-performing   Opposition.  But the veil  may be  wearing thin.

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