It's early days, but Jacinda Ardern risks being the first one-term Prime Minister since Walter Nash.

Eighteen years ago, Helen Clark's Government was about to be confronted by the Winter of Discontent. The next eight years are a warning not to prematurely predict a Prime Minister's early demise.

Still, the speed with which stuff-ups, miscommunications and genuine scandals are now piling up against Jacinda Ardern's Government is unprecedented.

In just two weeks, there have been at least eight, all either woefully mishandled by Ardern or reflecting the inherent instability of the first Government reliant on both NZ First and the Greens.


The Government's only silver lining is that the issues are emerging so quickly they may crowd one another out in the public mind. To re-cap events since March 11:

• Labour's management of the sexual assault allegations at its youth camp was, to quote Clark, "unbelievable". That is exactly the word to describe general secretary Andrew Kirton's version of events, yet Ardern has held no one to account.

• Dithering after Theresa May called for solidarity following the Salisbury attack suggested Ardern is afraid of her own Foreign Minister and reluctant to assert herself as the nation's chief diplomat. Her later announcement there are no undeclared Russian intelligence agents in New Zealand was mocked by the world's media for its naivety.

• Ardern broke prime ministerial precedent to greet 50 Greenpeace activists on Parliament's forecourt, telling them the end of oil and gas exploration is nigh. That afternoon she told the media the opposite and by morning talked of exploration continuing until 2046. Politicians often say different things to different audiences but not usually on the same afternoon in front of the same TV cameras.

• Shane Jones' popular attack on Air New Zealand was good politics for NZ First but Ardern's weak admonishment of her minister is a joke in NZ First circles, encouraging future flamboyance from her coalition partner.

• Phil Twyford's weekend announcement of a "medium density" development in Mt Albert lacked the credibility even of Nick Smith's pronouncements during his ill-fated term as housing tsar. Twyford's claim the new Government will build up to 4000 homes on just 29ha of land — with site efficiency of 63 per cent once roads, parks, shops and schools are taken into account — suggests population density comparable with Mumbai and six times that at Auckland's controversial Hobsonville Pt. With the plan requiring zoning changes, consent hearings and utility installation on bare land, Twyford's suggestion he will be putting the key in the door of the first houses next year indicates he has absolutely no idea of what is involved.

• Little-known NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft attracted attention after allegations she claimed to be speaking on behalf of ministers when threatening National MP Mark Mitchell over provincial growth fund projects in his electorate — but Ardern has made only perfunctory inquiries over the allegations.

• Ardern's failure to sack Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran for being — on the most charitable interpretation — less than forthcoming with the truth over her dealings with an RNZ middle manager over the controversial $38 million RNZ+ proposal constrains her from acting decisively against future bad behaviour by ministers. Ardern risks further humiliation as more information emerges next week.


• Ardern's decision to become personally involved in the nurses' pay dispute by advancing yet another "independent panel" will heighten public-sector wage expectations at a time the Government is already up against its fiscal limits. Expect nurses and teachers strikes through winter.

There was never any doubt that former Prime Minister Helen Clark was almost always the smartest person in the room and certainly the toughest. Picture / Mark Mitchell
There was never any doubt that former Prime Minister Helen Clark was almost always the smartest person in the room and certainly the toughest. Picture / Mark Mitchell

Clark of course recovered from her Winter of Discontent, starting with her so-called smoked salmon offensive. But the conditions in 2018 are different. Clark's Government was not reliant on parties to both its left and right.

Moreover, after Clark's years protecting the public health system from the Rogernomes in the Lange-Palmer Government, her knifing of Mike Moore in 1993 and her humbling of Michael Cullen during the aborted leadership coup of 1996, there was never any doubt she was almost always the smartest person in the room and certainly the toughest.

Ardern may yet come back from the Easter break refreshed and ready to restore a semblance of control. Her next problem, though, is that she will soon be going on maternity leave, putting the unpredictable Winston Peters in charge