Being tucked down in a corner of the South Pacific, New Zealanders tend to keep an ear cocked for what the rest of the world is saying about us.
A few days back, I read an article on the New York Times site headlined that while Jacinda Ardern is a star abroad, at home "she's losing her shine".
It was later published on the NZ Herald website and, by the time I saw it there, it had attracted a huge 559 comments before the editors locked down the feedback.
It was written by Pete McKenzie, a Kiwi freelance journalist who has written for the Times, Guardian and a host of local news outlets, including this one. With a recent Fulbright scholarship, McKenzie, son of actress Miranda Harcourt and brother of rising star Thomasin McKenzie, comes from a family of high achievers.
His article tracked for Americans what had happened in New Zealand to erode Ardern and Labour's popularity from the election-winning 50 per cent of the vote to recent polls showing the party on an average of about 35 per cent, with National on 40 per cent.
We had seen similar stories in our media, but having it beamed in from abroad obviously brought the point home to at least those 559 commenters on the Herald.
Meeting with Joe Biden in the White House, addressing Nato, having her hand almost shaken off by an otherwise friendless Boris Johnson, and hanging out with Anthony Albanese in Australia, Ardern is a near-perfect ambassador for our country. Talented, articulate, empathetic, caring and genuine are words often applied to her and, I think, correctly. But there is obviously something deeply wrong in the engine room of her Labour Government.
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Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, after his own failure to win the top job, actively promoted Ardern into the role of leader, recognising her skills as the "face" of Labour. His job, it seemed to me, would be to run the Government smoothly from behind the scenes while Ardern took care of the public relations. It hasn't quite worked out that way.
Although ministers such as Chris Hipkins, Megan Woods and Kiri Allan stand out for their competence, there are plenty of others in Cabinet who are struggling in their roles. Issues such as remodelling the health system, fixing the country's water problems with Three Waters, continued child poverty and a sense among many that the Government is "soft on crime" are rapidly eroding its support. Inflation and rising interest rates are also having an effect.
After more than two years of Covid-19 restrictions, it is obvious that New Zealanders urgently want to get back to something close to business as usual. Yet the rise of another Covid variant and continued mass infections, illness and death have resulted in some public-health experts warning that the country may have to go back into the "red setting", involving more lockdowns and controls. That would prove almost impossible to implement because the public mood has dramatically changed from 2020/21. It would crush support for the Government faster than it would crush the virus.
Knowing that Ardern and Robertson would value my sage advice (yes, that's a joke), I suggest the wider Cabinet reshuffle the Prime Minister signalled ahead of the election next year is urgently needed, to bring in a higher level of decision-making competence. You cannot carry your walking wounded into an election battle.
Labour needs to drop the unpopular reforms it is struggling to impose, as they have become bogged down in detail that will further strangle support.
Actually doing something about problems such as child poverty would help, too. It needs to avoid spin and rhetoric and do something. Fast.