The past week has been the worst for Jacinda Ardern since she became Prime Minister.

That may be more of a reflection of how many excellent weeks she has had than necessarily how terrible it has been.

It has not been a disaster, and there will definitely be worse to come. But it has been a mess.

She has had to deal with two very different and vexed issues of political management: the Labour Party's handling of indecent assaults on young people at its summer camp, and her deputy and coalition partner beginning to flex his muscles as Foreign Minister.


The would almost certainly have dominated the political agenda had it not been for the first - raised by Newsroom at a press conference on Monday.

But if there is one certainty, it is that the Peters problem will come again.

For sheer hard work, getting the Government up and running and completing the 17 priorities within the first 100 days was an endurance test for ministers and a challenge of the competence in the public service.

This week has been more a test of judgment for the young leader, and one which begs comparison with what other leaders would have done.

Some purists on the left feign outrage that the issue of political management has been raised in the same breath as a discussion of how the teenage victims should have been supported.

That is simply an attempt to protect the party in the face of its failure to tell the parents of the kids in the party's care and its failure to tell her as head of the party.

It is possible to manage support for the victims and consider reputational damage to a political party at the same time. It should not be either-or.

The decision to withhold the misconduct from Ardern was either a deliberate attempt to inoculate her against associated damage or could be seen to be that. Either way, it was a political decision albeit by omission.


The mismanagement shows a party out of touch with parents, most of whom would have expected to have been told if their teenager had been indecently assaulted under the party's care.

It may well be that most of the teenagers would not want their parents to know – but there are times when parents' rights trump those of kids.

Rod Emmerson's take on a week from hell for the Labour-led Government.
Rod Emmerson's take on a week from hell for the Labour-led Government.

Ardern has criticised the party for being tardy in offering the victims support but she has never said the parents should have been told or that she should have told earlier. She may have been empathetic but she has been out of touch with the mainstream on this issue.

There is a clear basis of comparison with National and its new conservative leader, Simon Bridges, in that he would have referred the events to the parents and the police. It is highly likely that New Zealand First would have similar instincts.

But a more valid comparison for Ardern may be Helen Clark. Over nine years in Government she developed a way of handling sensitive issues with a potentially criminal component. She would refer the matter to the police or for investigation and then decline all comment on the basis that the police were considering it.

By Wednesday afternoon, Ardern fronted up with a similar response, but it took too long. The party has commissioned an independent inquiry, and one of the young people had complained to the police, so no further comment will be made.


Helen Clark had no compunction about criticising colleagues or the party when it fell short of what the mainstream public would expect. It enhanced her reputation as someone who shared the same values as them.

Despite Ardern's small-town credentials and Christian upbringing, she is a trendy urban liberal and they are the people who will be most impressed with her performance this week.

When Helen Clark is not actually texting her advice to the new Government as it faces day to day problems, Ardern could do worse than asking herself what Helen Clark would have done.

The summer school episode was eventually contained. Dealing with the Peters problem is more difficult. Being in a second season as foreign minister under a Prime Minister who is not seasoned in Foreign Affairs, he is being less guarded in what he says than he was in the 2005 – 2008 under Clark.

He seems to have forgotten the maxim that the Prime Minister is always the real foreign minister and that together they have to present a seamless face to the world and to the public. There should not be an iota of difference between their intention, their messages and their tone.

But Peters has raised eyebrows not just domestically over comments on Newshub's The Nation programme.


He criticised the EU when it is on the brink of launching free trade negotiations with New Zealand, showed empathy towards Donald Trump's new tariffs on steel and aluminium, and showed sympathy to Russia over accusations of downing MH17.

His off-the-cuff comments on MH17 drew criticism from Australian Labor MP Penny Wong and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as well as the National opposition and an editorial in The Australian newspaper.

His more prepared comment about Britain's response to the use of Russia nerve agent attack was anaemic by comparison the other Five Eyes partners – or what has unkindly been called Four Eyes and a Blink - New Zealand being the blink.

Peters called for an international investigation – implying that the British one couldn't be relied on.

Ardern has been left this week having to defend what he said and what he meant, because his own clarifications have been anything but clarifying. Words matter, as Peters is fond of saying.

Ardern herself weighed into the backing-Britain issue on Friday with more appropriate criticism levelled towards Russia.


It was messy week but she finally got to where she needed to be - in control.