Jacinda Ardern's Covid honeymoon has soured.
Just one year after she pulled off an historic victory by catapulting Labour to an outright win in the October 2020 election, Ardern's reign has hit some stumbling blocks.
Her Government's tardiness in getting sufficient New Zealanders vaccinated before the mid-August Delta outbreak, helped pave the way for a punishing Auckland lockdown.
CEOs in the 2021 Herald survey marked her performance as prime minister at 3.03/5 — well down on last year's rating of 3.91/5 — on a scale of 1-5, where 1 equals not impressive and 5 equals very impressive.
The PM's political performance was rated at 3.3/5 and her leadership of the Government's response to the Covid-19 crisis was put at 3.01/5.
There is no doubt this is Ardern's toughest year yet as prime minister.
She is mid-way through her second term as PM and will want to make headway with her Government's massive reform programme before the 2023 election, and address running sores like growing inequality.
"Ardern's economic agenda is politically impressive: centralising healthcare, water, polytechs, consenting processes under the Natural and Built Environments Act and aspects of the education system," said NZ Initiative chair Roger Partridge. "But it is far from clear that the reforms will create the system of incentives and accountability needed to improve social outcomes."
CEOs were also sceptical, rating her leadership of transformative change at 2.08/5.
Her performances at the 1pm "podium of truth" where she and the Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield update the public on the latest Covid situation, are required viewing.
But she has critics: "Her most impressive attribute is the press conference," said a real estate chief executive. "Demonstrably excellent public relations and coms.
"But otherwise not much to show."
A logistic firm boss concurred: "Great in the crisis for Covid lockdowns. Very good and clear decisions.
It's everything that hasn't happened since May '20 to be better prepared for Covid that is the disappointment."
Accordant's Simon Bennett said Ardern made good calls to eliminate Covid. "No question. This was a blunt tool though and is not the tool required for the future of NZ."
Said a banker: "She has allowed NZ to be an international laggard with regard to vaccination, which has had seriously adverse effects on those industries which depend on more open borders, such as tourism and international education, and has been captured by a separatist Maori agenda symbolised by the He Puapua report."
Ardern did not reinstate her Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council after the 2020 election.
She has instead turned to a smaller and less formal group for advice.
Beca Group CEO Greg Lowe said the prime minister is still cautious about utilising business. "Business has a lot of implementing capacity that the Government could utilise."
"Consultation with the business community has improved," said Mainfreight CEO Don Braid, who said in last year's survey that it was time for the Prime Minister to embrace the business community rather than relying on the bureaucrats for advice and execution.
The bureaucratic fiefdoms that Braid railed against are still blocking business people like the PM's own business liaison Rob Fyfe from getting Covid-related change made.
Chief executives rated her ability to build confidence with business at a low 1.97/5.
"Unfortunately as Prime Minister she is not over the detail, other than Covid, that she should be," said a well-placed chair. "She dodges the tough questions and bullies the Press Gallery into asking "Dorothy Dixer" questions.
"She only turns up to radio shows that will ask inane questions of no substance and avoids the tough questions from the likes of Hosking, Du Plessis Allan and Radio New Zealand, because they show up her lack of command of detail."
Said an independent director: "Our issue is we have a good Prime Minister who could be a great PM if she had leadership experience or self-awareness that told her, you don't need to 'know it all' and you aren't right all of the time.
"Great leaders surround themselves with great people and listen to them and take their advice and acknowledge what they may not know and show vulnerability."
The director summed up: "The way she's going it will be a legacy of being a great frontperson who shows care in a crisis but who couldn't lead the country economically or socially out of the crisis it faces and doesn't understand how to prioritise change."
In fact, Ardern's international celebrity has been an undoubted asset for NZ during a pandemic which has resulted in many political leaders conducting foreign relations by telephone or Zoom.
She has name recognition and leverages her personal brand for New Zealand's international advantage.
This has been recognised by CEOs in the 2021 Mood of the Boardroom.
Ardern will be thrust into the international limelight in mid-November when she hosts the Apec Leaders retreat which will be held virtually.
This is the premier regional meeting of political leaders for the Asia Pacific.
US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping headline an international cast of 20 Apec leaders at the retreat. In July, she pulled off a first — a special Apec forum to get some movement on Covid issues — of importance also to New Zealand.
On the whole CEOs rated Ardern much better on her conduct of international affairs than domestic matters.
"I think it is incredible how this Government has failed on everything (including their own priorities) across Covid, education, housing, poverty, infrastructure and she remains as popular as she does," said an investment banker.
"I can't believe that constantly saying 'I'm as disappointed as everyone' works as a response to ongoing non-progress across all these things. If only the National Party focused on real stuff and not peripheral rubbish like gangs and Māori."
"Without the platform that Covid has provided she and Labour would be polling appallingly," observed a real estate leader.
A utility boss concluded: "Fabulous politician. But doesn't have the bench strength to get things done, or to generate quality advice.
"And has ideological settings that appeal to an international media-led "woke" community, but will not create real advances for New Zealanders".