You have to question the Prime Minister's judgment. How good is she at running this ship? It's now impossible not to ask that question.

The Government has had three weeks of car crash problems and Jacinda Ardern dropped the ball virtually every time.

The list of cock-ups in three weeks is astounding. International headlines over the PM's refusal to kick out Russian spies. National headlines over the Radio New Zealand snafu. Allegations of blackmail threats over regional slush fund money. The PM's mixed messages on the future of oil and gas exploration. The Labour Summer Camp stuff up.

The impression is the new Government is at best naive, at worst (in at least one situation) potentially corrupt. Every crisis has created the sense Government MPs are still trying to figure out how to be in Government, still acting like they're in Opposition.


The buck always stops with the PM. And it's hard to give her bouquets for the way she has handled things.

Take the Russian spies. That was a rookie mistake. Ardern should have expelled Russian diplomats as soon as the Australians did. It doesn't matter whether they're spies or not. That misses the point.

The point was to send a message we stand with the UK in its condemnation of Russia. Instead, New Zealand was the only member of Five Eyes not to act immediately. The incident was A-grade embarrassing on the world stage. New Zealand became the butt of international headlines.

On the allegations junior MP Jenny Marcroft held a National MP to ransom with public money, Ardern should have raised merry hell.

This is serious. It threatens the credibility of regional slush fund spends from now. The PM could have promised an investigation but she wrote it off as "he said she said" and appears to have given it little more than a once-over-lightly look.

There was Ardern's back-of-the-net own goal. Out of thin air the PM created a problem by going out the front of Parliament to accept a petition from oil and gas protesters. Prime Ministers don't do that. Helen Clark didn't meet the thousands-strong Seabed and Foreshore hikoi. Ardern met a group of 50. At lunchtime she told protesters she was "actively considering" an end to oil and gas exploration, then totally reversed that statement by 4pm.

Over the Labour Summer Camp debacle Ardern should have demanded a head. In this column two weeks ago, I argued that is what Clark would have done. In an interview this week Clark hinted at exactly that. Asked how she would have reacted, she replied: "If you get out the book and ask, 'What would Helen have done?' ... draw your own conclusions." Failing to do so makes Ardern look weak.

By this week's end, Ardern had one final chance. So much had gone wrong there was only one thing left to do and that was to show some strength. The opportunity was there in the Radio New Zealand snafu.


Ardern could have hauled Clare Curran over the coals about her private meeting with RNZ news boss Carol Hirschfeld. A good telling off would have shown Ardern's mettle. But again, that didn't happen. Ardern let Curran off with an apology.

At times like these it's easy to blame those who give the PM advice. Her officials, her media people, Winston Peters. But again, the buck stops with the PM. She must take advice, then decide the right course.

Remember the election campaign? Ardern's captain's call on tax was the only mistake Labour made. It nearly cost the party the election. The saving grace was her decision to reverse that captain's call. You have to wonder at the PM's judgment.

Heather du Plessis-Allan is on NewstalkZB Wellington, weekday mornings.