Something's changed in the PM's media strategy.
Suddenly, Jacinda Ardern is more available. She's traveling to radio studios for face-to-face weekly interviews, she's available for interviews at times of the day previously completely off-limits, and she's started phoning political editors for weekend catch ups again.
It could just be that there's now more free time in the PM's schedule. Or, it could be that Labour has realised Ardern needs a better relationship with the media if she wants to win the next election.
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It hardly needs to be said that Ardern is Labour's greatest asset. But Labour hasn't treated her like that. They haven't protected her brand jealously enough. She's been allowed to give the wrong answers in interviews, been allowed to tell too many fibs, been exposed to too many mini-scandals. That's, ultimately, why she fell 10 points in popularity polls in just a few weeks. Now, though, Labour seems to have realised it needs to shore up her brand.
But, can someone please send that memo through to NZ First? Because no matter what Labour does to protect her brand, as long as NZ First keeps setting fires all over the show, it will burn up her political capital.
Every time NZ First creates an issue, the media will head straight to the PM for a response. And her response is generally to say anything other than reprimanding them.
And that is the situation we find ourselves in, yet again, with the NZ First donations allegations. To be fair, there's little action Ardern can actually take. She can hardly stand Winston Peters down. Nothing's been proven, and there's a chance nothing will.
The Electoral Commission is already looking into it. The next step would be to take it to the Police, and Ardern can't do that without implying that she believes her coalition partner has done something unlawful.
So, her hands are tied in terms of what she can do. But she can always say something. That's what's missing here.
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Right now she's done the equivalent of putting her hands to her ears and singing la la la la. Her go-to phrase is that she won't involve herself in the business of another party, just like she didn't involve herself in the allegations around National's donations. That comparison is patently absurd. She is not in coalition with National. She is in coalition with NZ First. She is not Simon Bridges' boss. She is Winston Peters' boss. She might never act like his boss - and depending on what Faustian pact she agreed to in order to get into government, she may never act like his boss - but in this political system the PM is still top dog.
If this was the only time NZ First had got itself into trouble in the past two years, Ardern might be able to get away with that hands-off approach. But, it's not the first time she's ignored their troubles. All of Shane Jones' behaviour, Ron Mark's and Winston Peters' goes undisciplined. Ultimately, failing to act like their boss makes the PM look either weak, or unconcerned by bad behaviour, or desperate to cling to power, or all three of the above.
At the very least, the PM should've made a point of acknowledging the seriousness of the allegations - albeit, unproven allegations - and indicated that of course she would act if required to. That would be enough to start looking a stronger and more decisive. Anything short of that, just sounds an awful lot like "I don't care" to someone only half listening to the TV over dinner.
Again, the PM and Labour should be protecting Ardern's brand, instead of seemingly being prepared to sacrifice it for the minor coalition partner.