You can't blame Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for recounting her story of meeting Donald Trump. Any one of us would have.

It had the elements of a good travel yarn: a party, confusion and sex.

The party was Apec, the confusion was Trump's, as he thought Ardern was Canadian PM Justin Trudeau's wife, and the sex was apparently happening with Justin Trudeau, who Trump thought Ardern was married to. By implication yes but it's a bit of a stretch.

The only difference between her travel yarn and one of ours is that the central characters run countries.


It would be tempting to argue that is the very reason Ardern should not have told the story: the characters are just too well known and too powerful.

But really, the telling of the story probably won't cause a kerfuffle. On the scale of international missteps, this is minor. Trump's shrugged off far bigger clumps of mud and likely won't even have expected himself to recognise the leader of 5 million people.

Plus, John Key told similar stories all the time and caused no drama.

So, if you were expecting diplomatic fallout, relax.

For Ardern herself, though, this is a personal mistake she couldn't afford to make. The risk for her is that this misstep adds to the growing impression that she doesn't know what she's doing.

And not just Ardern, but the rest of Labour too.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo / AP
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo / AP

At any stage in a Government's life — but especially at the start when we're first getting to know the characters — there is the risk of a narrative taking hold. All that requires is three or more balls-ups that seem similar enough to look like a pattern.

Once there's a pattern, anything that looks even a tiny bit similar only reinforces it further.


So far, the pattern is that Labour is out of its depth.

First, there was the extremely clumsy moment in Parliament when National tricked Labour into striking a deal it didn't need to strike to get Trevor Mallard elected to the Speaker's job.

The error was so simple as to be embarrassing: no one in Labour appeared to have counted the MPs in the debating chamber.

Next, Kelvin Davis showed he's not up to the job of filling in for Ardern. While the grown-ups were out of the country, it fell to him to be acting PM, but he couldn't even answer questions in the House without colleagues first whispering the answers to him.

And then there was Ardern's handling of our offer to take Manus Island refugees.

Some may see Ardern as ballsy for pushing Australia around a bit, others see her as naive for failing to realise how much she was pushing Australia around, and how it was annoying Malcolm Turnbull.

The risk of a narrative is that, once it takes hold, it's hard to shake.

George W Bush became the stupid guy, Al Gore became the lying guy, Helen Clark became the matron of the nanny state.

It's never entirely true, but if enough people think it is, the damage is done and it punishes you forever.

Ardern doesn't deserve this narrative to take hold. She's articulate, a fast learner and is actually getting things about 98 per cent right. That's no easy task.

Labour leaders before her took months just to learn how to look at TV cameras and talk at the same time. But now the narrative is pencil-sketched waiting for Labour to colour it in. It would do Labour good to avoid the errors it's making. That will avoid something inane like Ardern's travel yarn getting blown out of proportion like it has.