Opinion: Jacinda may not be able to walk on water. Not yet anyway. But give her time

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Jacinda Ardern may not be able to walk on water. Not yet anyway. But give her time.

"Her Treaty commemorations handling was in a different class altogether," John Armstrong writes.
Source: 1 NEWS

After her triumph at Waitangi - and no-one has been silly enough to dispute that assessment - anything seems possible when this prime minister is party to the action.

If you are wondering why Waitangi Day at Waitangi was such an unqualified success this year, you need look no further than Jacinda Ardern’s five-day excursion to the Far North which immediately preceded the annual marking of the signing of the Treaty.

Source: 1 NEWS

It was the Mother of All Huis. It was the Powwow of all Powwows.

It was the biggest signal of Ardern's intention to lift Northland out of its socio-economic morass that she could provide to the region's inhabitants.

It was nothing short of a political masterstroke.

The notion of freeing up five days in the packed prime ministerial diary would likely to have been regarded as impossible by the Wellington-based bureaucracy. Ardern's answer was to include not a few of those mandarins in her carry-on baggage for the flight to Whangarei.

Their presence at the no doubt countless meetings that Ardern subsequently had with anyone and everyone who matters in Northland would have provided further assurance she was not just the latest example of a politician suddenly discovering what - bar the exception of the East Coast of the North Island - is the most poverty-stricken province and, moreover, one that sits awkwardly next to richest one.

The Treaty Grounds are set to open after the service for market stalls and entertainment.
Source: 1 NEWS

How much concrete progress Ardern's blitz actually makes is for the medium-term to measure.

In the short-term, however, Ardern's on-the-ground engagement with local movers and shakers had one byproduct.

The Prime Minister's staff and advisers, Labour's Maori MPs and Northland iwi would have been working night and day behind the scenes to ensure Ardern did not strike trouble on the Treaty grounds.

Jacinda Ardern was met by a local group who showed their respect for her.
Source: 1 NEWS

However, her five-day presence in the locality and her actions in the lead-up to Waitangi Day sucked the tension out of an occasion where tension normally hangs heavy in the atmosphere.

There would never have been any question of Ardern not being at the nation's birthplace on the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty.

Not going would have cut across her belief system. It would have jarred with her vision for race relations. Having dispatched the Maori Party to the political wilderness, it would have looked like Labour was reverting to its old habit of taking Maori voters for granted.

Impressive as has been her cracking of the whip in implementing her 100-day action plan and her near-faultless fronting of other matters that have landed on the Prime Minister's desk was, her handling of the Treaty commemorations was in a different class altogether.

As a measure of astute political management, Ardern has set a benchmark that will be very difficult to better.

Her capacity to anticipate problems and deal with them before they get the chance to fester should have sent a shudder through National's caucus "retreat" in Tauranga.

The Prime Minister is helping to feed the masses at this year's celebrations.
Source: 1 NEWS

Waitangi Day at Waitangi is one very tough gig for a prime minister.

The highly-volatile elements of Maori politics, Maori protocol, the Treaty, socio-economic deprivation, rights to protest, national identity and so on are all wrapped together. 

The chances of it all exploding are always high. Any such explosion usually goes off in the face of the prime minister.

Just ask Bill English. As prime minister last year, he found himself potentially hostage to game-playing by Ngapuhi, the host iwi at Waitangi.

They latter taunted him by intimating he might be denied speaking rights at the powhiri. 

On top of the disrespect being shown to the office of prime minister and unhappy generally with the absence of organisation on the part of the so-called organising committee, English pulled the plug and opted not to make the annual trek to the Far North.

It was the right decision. It looked like the wrong decision this week, however.

English found himself marginalised. In determining he would spend the day at Ngai Tahu's Treaty Festival in Bluff, National's leader could not have got any further distant from Waitangi.

The leader of the National Party is attending the Ngai Tahu Treaty Festival today in the South Island.
Source: 1 NEWS

The symbolism was dreadful in other ways. Along with Andrew Little, her Treaty Negotiations Minister, Ardern had spent a portion of her five-day stint in the Far North trying to resolve the faction fighting which has stalled a start being made in resolving Ngapuhi's outstanding Treaty claim, one that concerns both the largest iwi in the country - and the poorest.

In contrast, English was hobnobbing with Ngāi Tahu who not long ago were in receipt of a $180 million top-up from the Crown in order to fulfil a "relativity" clause in the tribe's 1998 treaty settlement.

It would be churlish to criticise English for spending Waitangi Day in the region that he represented for so long prior to becoming a list MP.

Who knows, it might be his last opportunity to do so as an MP if he voluntarily quits politics this year as many are expecting.

That likelihood means questions about the future leadership of the party will lurk in the backdrop during the National's retreat, but not necessarily in terms of personnel.

Other manifestations of leadership - namely political strategy - will be very much to the fore, however.

In short, National has a crisis on its hands. Ardern goes from strength to strength. She is calling the shots. She is out-foxing and out-boxing National with increasing frequency.

And English and his colleagues do not seem to have the first clue as to how they might counter it.

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