Labour could be forgiven for having had a momentary sense of utu when Greens co-leader Metiria Turei was facing her own existential crisis yesterday after fresh revelations of dishonesty.

If Turei had not fashioned herself as victim of poverty that had demanded she commit benefit fraud, the Green Party would not have surged in the polls, Labour would not have plunged, there would have been no crisis in Labour and Andrew Little would still be leader.

That's why utu is only momentary.

Much as Andrew Little did the decent thing and resigned without a hint of self-pity, Labour did not realise how little it would miss him until he had gone.

Advertisement

Jacinda Ardern's transition to leader has melted those hardened Labour Party members who were appalled at yet another change of leader so close to an election.

The public acclaim is real. When Ardern boarded a plane with a television crew this week filming her first week in the job, the plane broke into applause. A similar thing happened to John Key after he first became Prime Minister.

She has gone from strength to strength and grabbed the opportunity to metaphorically club a few media cave-men over their stone-age views on working women and pregnancy. A sheer gift to her.

Ardern's deputy, Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis, has also had an impressive week.

He is likely to not only extend Labour's appeal to Maori voters but to blue-collar blokes. He is down to earth, he is moderate, he has been a school principal and he has no problem confessing his love affair with the remote control and Sky Sports.

Ardern gave yet another command performance at a press conference yesterday spelling out with a combination of force and compassion - and not a hint of utu from her - that she could not have Turei in any cabinet of hers.

It was a case of the smiling assassin - sacking her first minister before she even had the chance to be a minister. It had echoes of both Helen Clark and John Key.

Ardern's elevation has been the cleanest transfer of power by any leader in recent memory, way surpassing that of Key to Bill English last year, in which he faced a couple of faux rivals.

Advertisement

Part of the reason for this transition is that it had no origins in a coup or scandal or undertones of a selfish decision, as Key's had.

Little's departure was in stark contrast with Turei's performance yesterday, which dripped with self-pity.

She professed to take responsibility for historic wrong-doing by saying she would not take a cabinet position.

But she was making a virtue out of the political reality that she would be refused one anyway because of the electoral fraud. And as with the earlier admission of benefit fraud, there has been no real expression of contrition.

Turei's decision to stay on delivers a highly unsatisfactory resolution - she makes the Greens a sitting target for the right all the way through to the election and possibly Labour, by association.

It is exactly the outcome National would have hoped for.

As co-leader Turei will continue to speak for the party but without credibility.

Even as she described her own circumstances in yesterday's press conference, it sounded very peculiar.

She had been living with her baby's father until she became pregnant. She had falsely given his address as her home address on her electoral declaration to vote for a friend. And her mother had been one of her flat mates for a time when she had been claiming the domestic purposes benefit.

Labour will be hoping that if there is any justice, damaging fallout from the latest trouble will be to Turei's own party rather than to Ardern or Labour this time.

Relations in the Labour-Greens bloc itself have been strained. Resentment by Labour against the Greens had been growing over a number of issues - first over its decision to vote for National's welfare package in the Budget, then Turei's decision to call Winston Peters racist, and then over Turei possibly short-lived martyrdom after her admission over welfare fraud.

That has changed. Turei's kamikaze actions have seen things return to what Labour would see as the natural order of things, in which Labour rules and the Greens support.
But it would be negligent of National not to try to damage Labour by association.

Campaign chairman Steven Joyce has already weighed in to suggest that the resignation and then the non-resignation of two leaders this week denotes the left is a circus in disarray.

That makes a change from Joyce's appearance on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report on Thursday in which he trod so warily he could not bring himself to offer any opinion, positive or negative, on Jacinda Ardern.

Attacking the left as a block is perhaps National's only option at this early stage when Ardern has done nothing yet that can be reasonably criticized.

She has flummoxed her rivals. They are waiting anxiously for her to make a mistake.