The day Jacinda Ardern became Labour leader, I told NewstalkZB I thought she was a flake who would fail.
I wasn't meaning to be nasty. I said her colleagues knew her better and judged she was the right person to fill the shoes of Michael Joseph Savage, Peter Fraser, David Lange and Helen Clark.
The following three months forced me to reevaluate my initial assessment. But events since have reconfirmed it.
Were Ardern a head of state like a ceremonial president or queen, she would be in her element. As Simon Wilson puts it, Ardern personifies "who we are now" at Buckingham Palace, the United Nations or Waitangi, at least as judged by a certain demographic.
But as head of government, it was soon obvious she has no ability to formulate and progress an agenda, transformational or otherwise. There is nothing behind her words.
All her Government's major initiatives have failed. Despite its advance billing, the Wellbeing Budget was unconnected to the Treasury's Living Standards Framework, earlier hailed by Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
Ardern has ruled out further rebalancing the tax system away from wages and towards capital gains.
KiwiBuild has entered the Kiwi vernacular as a synonym for failure. Poverty, homelessness and suicide have all worsened. Fees-free tertiary education has had no material impact.
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Ardern's "nuclear-free moment" of the Zero Carbon Bill has not arrived and, if it does, it will be with agriculture largely excluded. There will be a retreat from David Parker's water quality reforms.
Ardern's strategy is now weekly pseudo-announcements notable only for their cynicism.
Thus, last month's Employment Strategy (these things are always capitalised), which consists mainly of Willie Jackson holding a few meetings. Ardern's Cancer Plan involves an extra $20 million a year for Pharmac, which might or might not be spent on cancer drugs, and a new Cancer Control Office in Wellington.
Perhaps most cynical of all was this week's Suicide Prevention Strategy which, after two years in office, consisted mainly of setting up a new Suicide Prevention Office. By the time it gets its mission statement, logo, offices and espresso machine, another thousand families will have mourned a loved one.
This seems to have been Ardern's sole strategy through her 11 aimless years in Parliament: emote over a problem, then propose a working group or other process as a substitute for taking responsibility, decisions and actions herself.
This could be intellectual laziness. More charitably, it could be self-awareness of her own gaps in knowledge of economics, foreign policy, government administration or the provision of social services.
Despite this, the assumption has surely been that Ardern, as a liberal and "youth-adjacent" woman, would competently handle an issue like allegations of sexual assault by one of her own staff against young party volunteers.
Instead, we have learned that more likely she was part of an attempt, involving the full range of the Labour establishment, to at least minimise but perhaps cover up the allegations.
Efforts this week to position the Labour Party — of which she is the putative leader — as having little more relationship to her than the Freemasons or the Illuminati would be risible where it not for the seriousness of the matter.
Ardern's line is that she knew nothing of the full nature of the allegations until she read them on woke website The Spinoff on Monday morning.
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This is extremely difficult to believe. Every political tragic has been talking about little else for weeks, including the name, place of work, job description and personal and professional connections of the alleged offender.
Even more improbable, Ardern's story requires us to believe that a Prime Minister with a Bachelor of Communication Studies from Waikato University pays no attention to the mainstream media.
Moreover, her line overlooks that she was personally asked about the allegations more than a month ago live on NewstalkZB by Mike Hosking and by press gallery doyen Barry Soper at Beehive press conferences.
Ardern's story requires her to have been insufficiently mentally engaged in those interviews to understand what was being talked about or for her to have forgotten about being asked on live radio and in Beehive press conferences about allegations of violent crimes by her own staff.
Maybe this is possible. Her answers involved nothing more than her usual platitudes.
Moreover, she is a Prime Minister who confuses GDP and the Crown operating balance and was unable to even precis the three articles of the Treaty of Waitangi when asked at Waitangi on Waitangi Day.
However, if Ardern really were ignorant of the nature of the allegations, the most likely alternative is that she lives in such a smug, sanctimonious bubble of Pt Chev and Cuba St Mall hipsters that she believes long-standing broadcasters like Hosking or Soper would simply make up allegations of violent offences by her own staff as some sort of right-wing smear against her.
That is, it seems Ardern may take nothing seriously until she sees it on The Spinoff. This would explain other aspects of her failure as Prime Minister, including why she apparently heard none of the construction industry's warnings about the KiwiBuild train wreck.
Ardern's two years of failure mean her hopey-changey "Let's Do This" theme of 2017 is inoperative. Her supporters' hopes have been dashed and she has proven incompetent at change or doing much at all.
But all is far from lost for Labour. Fear is at least as strong an emotion as hope. Given Simon Bridges' conservative social views, Paula Bennett's history in welfare, Paul Goldsmith's aversion to public debt and the likelihood of a major economic downturn, expect to see Ardern 2.0 on the campaign trail next year.
Hope and change will be out. In their place will be claims of secret plans to restrict access to abortion, gut the welfare state and sell off hospitals and schools. It won't matter that such claims will be entirely detached from reality. The same is true of almost anything Ardern says, on any topic, ever.
• Matthew Hooton is an Auckland-based public relations consultant and lobbyist.