John Armstrong: Jacinda Ardern looked like she was no longer in control during Labour's week from hell

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Forget about modelling for any more Vogue-style fashion shoots. Forget about being willing fodder for the cameras of Australian-produced current affairs shows which are anything but.

Jacinda Ardern has denied news of the sexual assault allegation were intentionally kept from her by Labour.
Source: 1 NEWS

Forget about being forever labelled as New Zealand's "rock-star prime minister".

It is high time that the music stopped. It is time Jacinda Ardern stopped selling herself short by fulfilling every request of those keen to exploit the hottest political property to emerge from the Southern Hemisphere since Nelson Mandela strutted the international stage with similar poise and ease.

Source: 1 NEWS

Ardern will not have the enjoyment of being categorised as hot prop for much longer.

The international media will decamp for elsewhere in the hunt for things out of the ordinary with which to feed the appetites of their readers and viewers.

New Zealand's Prime Minister can once more concentrate exclusively on looking and behaving like one.

That is very good news for Labour. And right now that party is in somewhat desperate need of that commodity.

It is little more than a month ago that Ardern was carrying all before her. Waitangi Day was her zenith - a triumph which she made look effortless in its achievement.

In politics, however, things can change in an instant. And change they have.

Nigel Haworth spoke alongside Jacinda Ardern today after allegations of sexual assault from the youth camp emerged.
Source: 1 NEWS

This has been the week from hell for Labour and its leader. For the first time since taking on the latter role last August, she has been less than convincing in her handling of the mayhem.

She should be banging a few heads together both within the Labour Party and the wider governing arrangement which she heads.

Her trademark grin needs to switch to grimace. Her tendency to give errant colleagues and allies only mild tickings-off when they are at fault should be replaced by the expectation they will be on the receiving end of severe tellings-off if not in public then in private at the very least.

Andrew Kirton said an external person may be brought in to review the alleged assaults.
Source: Breakfast

So bad have things got that something which would be normally regarded as highly damaging has been completely overshadowed.

Jenny Salesa's first achievement as a Cabinet minister has been to run up $30,000-plus in taxpayer-funded domestic travel and accommodation expenses during her first three months in the job.

That sum is larger than what more than half of those who live in her socially-deprived South Auckland electorate get in income in a year. But Salesa was in luck — and not solely because her boss kept making excuses for her.

Salesa's apparent ignorance of the expense she was incurring had no hope of competing news wise with the revelation of alleged sexual assaults at a summer camp run by Labour's youth wing.

Jacinda Ardern said it was unacceptable alcohol was accessible at a Labour Party camp where a group of 16-year-olds were allegedly assaulted.
Source: Breakfast

In its inept handling of this dreadful episode, Labour justifiably stands accused of putting self-interest and political convenience ahead of the welfare of the victims of the alleged assaults.

Just how big a price Labour ends up paying for its shoddy behaviour is hard to assess. Such incidents make a big splash then fade from the public's memory.

Wintson Peters' injudicious Russia remarks

If that was not enough on her plate, Ardern finds herself lumbered with a foreign minister crooning the theme tune of From Russia With Love.

Winston Peters' injudicious remarks of recent days have made it look like New Zealand is siding with Russia at the very time the regime in Moscow is being accorded pariah status by the rest of the civilised world.

His assertion that there is "no evidence" that Russia was responsible for the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine back in 2014 is something you might expect to hear at a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.

Well, here are the facts. A painstaking criminal investigation conducted by Dutch authorities at the request of Ukraine found that metal fragments in the bodies of the airliner's flight crew were consistent with materials contained in a Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missiles.

Moreover, while the missile was fired from a field in Ukrainian territory held by pro-Russian rebels, the missile carrier had been transported across the border from Russia on the day of the crash and then returned to Russia soon after the missile was launched.

Russia may not have pushed the launch button. But the conclusion that Russia was complicit in bringing down the aircraft is inescapable.

To justify his stance, Peters needs to provide a cogent answer to the following question: If Russia was not responsible for the downing of the aircraft, why did that country exercise its veto to block a draft United Nations resolution which would have seen the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate the crash?

That obtaining satisfactory answers from Peters is politics' version of Waiting for Godot will cut no ice in London.

New Zealand will be expected to fall in line with Britain

Britain has embarked on a massive diplomatic push to get maximum level condemnation of Russia as being responsible for the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

New Zealand will be expected to fall into line and join such a chorus. So far, however, Peters' condemnation of the attack has avoided making any reference or connection to Russia.

Up to now, Ardern has tried to variously rationalise or downplay Peters' often contradictory perambulations around the foreign policy paddock.

That has only succeeded in making her look defensive. It has made her look weak.

Unless Peters shifts his stance, she is going to have to pull rank and go over his head. If she ducks the matter to avoid destabilising relations with Labour's coalition partner, she will be jeopardising New Zealand's chances of securing separate, but equally vital post-Brexit free trade agreements with Britain and the European Union.

In Peters' case, Ardern is well-primed to expect trouble. She got no such forewarning that the seedy behaviour at a Labour summer camp was about to hit the newswires.

Ardern looked like she was no longer in control

The party's officials kept her and others in the dark on the grounds that was the advice of experts in the handling of alleged sexual abuse. Those officials thus argued they were acting in the best interests of the victims who did not want others to be made aware of their hurt and humiliation.

Keeping everyone in the dark also suited Labour's best interests. Keeping Ardern in the dark came at a price, however.

Her inability to provide answers to the questions fired at her during Monday's press conference made it look like she was no longer in control.

What is truly mind-boggling is the stupidity exhibited by the party organisation in thinking that what occurred at the summer camp could be hushed up.

Given the current unrelenting focus on sexual harassment and the exposure of institutions where such behaviour has long been endemic, the Labour Party was deluding only itself if it thought it was somehow exempt from scrutiny.

It was only a matter of time before the media were tipped-off.

The question lingering in the wake of this fiasco is what does this all mean for Labour's honeymoon with voters.

The answer is that the grizzling has begun but not in a manner anyone would have predicted.

The grizzling has centred on Ardern handing out big dollars in aid and state pension rights during her meetings in Samoa, Tonga, Niue and the Cook Islands while Nelson region apple growers struck by flash floods have been ignored.

The Prime Minister need look no further than her Canadian counterpart for worrying evidence of how quickly things can change.

It is not so long ago that Justin Trudeau was enjoying sky-high approval ratings.

They have plummeted in recent months. He was deemed untouchable. No longer, however.

Ardern is deemed as untouchable. But for how much longer?

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