John Armstrong's opinion: Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of Ardern's administration?

Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the Ardern Administration?

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Jacinda Ardern said she went to the party five-weeks-ago when she saw speculation in the media. Source: 1 NEWS

How damaging are this week’s extraordinary revelations surrounding Labour’s disgraceful mishandling of sexual assault allegations to the prospects of the party clinging onto power following next year’s election?

Will the exposure of what has to be regarded as a deep vein of hypocrisy, insincerity and cynicism running through the very heart of the governing party turn out to be a tipping point which will end with Labour being tipped out of office?

Has this unseemly episode exposed Jacinda Ardern as both a fake and a flake?

In short, has Labour drastically reduced its chances of retaining the Government benches in Parliament by unwittingly blunting the fire-power of its most potent weapon?

Such questions might be regarded as being somewhat over the top.

To the contrary, however, the tumult of the past week has been as serious a crisis as any that have afflicted the party since the bitter ideological warfare which tore Labour apart in the late 1980s.

The latest example of Labour’s predilection for shooting itself in both feet was kicked off by Monday’s publication by The Spinoff website of the harrowing account of a 19-year-old Labour Party volunteer’s struggle to get the party’s hierarchy to take her complaint of alleged sexual assault seriously.

The impact of that article has been devastating — especially in terms of the embarrassment that has ended up being heaped on the Prime Minister.

The offhand and shabby treatment by the party of a number of such complaints of alleged sexual assault and misconduct is not just a disgrace. It sits in the realm of the despicable.

Labour’s behaviour has been as callous and mean-spirited as the practices of some organisations and business entities that the party professes to abhor.

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It’s been a tumultuous week for the Labour Party.

Labour claims to be the voice of the powerless fighting against the all-too powerful. In this instance, it was trampling the powerless into the dust.

It has all made a nonsense of Ardern’s positioning herself as a promoter of women’s rights and a voice of young voters.

The dereliction of duty on the part of Labour’s New Zealand Council, the party’s governing body, has simultaneously made a mockery of Ardern’s declared intention to inject kindness and compassion into the conduct of politics.

It has made Ardern’s parading of herself as some kind of Mother Theresa-Lite look like a hollow charade.

This unseemly affair is a lesson in the risks of a leader wearing their heart on their sleeve.

It is fine for Ardern to espouse the principles which she holds dear. But the bigger the bouquets for being seen to bring a fresh and more enlightened approach to the practise of politics, the bigger the brickbats when things go wrong.

And deservedly so. Labour now looks to be morally bankrupt. Ardern has a mountain to climb in persuading voters that the party still holds dear to its founding principles.

To compound matters, her response to the revelations has been inept, most notably her insistence that she was unaware prior to this week that complaints about the behaviour of a Labour staffer included allegations of sexual assault.

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Nigel Haworth was criticised for his handling of a sexual assault allegation against a party staffer. Source: 1 NEWS

That simply did not square with what she intimated five weeks ago when she took the New Zealand Council to task over its procedures for handling complaints of misconduct.

At the end of the day, the search for the truth of what the Prime Minister knew and when she knew it is akin to trying to nail jelly to a wall. And about as rewarding.

It might be true that Ardern was unaware that the complaints included allegations of sexual assault. By insisting as much, however, she is expecting the public to believe the unbelievable. She is trying to make the incredible sound credible.

The big question is how much damage has the furore inflicted on "Brand Jacinda".

She might get points for offering profuse apologies to the complainants plus the support they might need to cope with the trauma they will have suffered.

Ardern has been decisive. That is a plus. She could have toughed things out and have waited for the media to get bored with the whole circus.

That has often been the preferred option of prime ministers when they find themselves in a pickle. It is a risky option. It leaves a leader open to the charge of being weak and indecisive.

Toughing things out is anyway not Ardern’s style. She actually might not have been quite as decisive as she sought to appear to be. She wasted no time in getting shod of Howarth.

It is worth noting, however, that Labour is holding its annual conference in early November. As president, Howarth would have been sharing the platform with Ardern.

The resulting photographs and video footage would have been the stuff of nightmares for Labour’s strategists. For that reason alone, Howarth had to go.

His exit will be quickly forgotten. What will stick in people’s memories from this week are words like “mess”, “muddle” and “muck up”.

Ardern’s performance will have only impressed the gullible. It will have left most voters distinctly unimpressed.

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National’s deputy leader told Breakfast the Government should have handled the case differently from the start. Source: Breakfast

For some voters, the turn of events will serve in their minds as confirmation that Ardern is a political lightweight. Others will be puzzled and mystified.

They have trusted her as someone who tells the truth. But they are having a real struggle in convincing themselves that she has done so this week.

For them, it will be the first step in their becoming what might be termed as doubters of Ardern’s capacity to actually walk all the talk which pours in torrents from her lips.

For those who are already doubters, the past few days will be another step on the path to them dismissing her as a fake and a flake.
It is far too soon suggest this week has been a turning point in Ardern’s and her party’s fortunes.

If it is, then that will be because of a combination of factors ranging from the state of KiwiBuild to the state of the economy to the state of Ardern.

It is a longstanding political dictum that the lifespan of a prime ministership is usually death by the proverbial thousand cuts. It had been widely assumed that such was Ardern’s star quality, she was exempt or immune from that rule.

Well, quite simply, that presumption no longer holds.