Opinion

Adoration for the PM overseas does not translate here

Opinion: After an unnecessarily rocky and fractured start, Jacinda Ardern has had a blinder in the United States. 

Meetings with huge tech heavyweights, bringing the house down at Harvard, striking the right tone on The Late Show in front of 2.5 million viewers, promoting the bejesus out of New Zealand and, of course, the absolute requisite cherry on top, securing a meeting with the US President at the White House

It’s great for brand-Ardern, it’s great for brand-NZ but history tells us it won’t necessarily be great for Labour. 

Adoration for our Prime Minister overseas does not translate to adoration for her here at home. 

Ardern’s inadvertently shoring up any future international job prospects should she lose the next election, the world is most definitely her oyster, but in terms of the political cost/benefit analysis for Ardern and her party, these trips don’t always add up. 

Labour is having a mare in the polls. Thirdtermitis has kicked in, voters are revolting over the latter part of the government COVID response, the cost of living is biting to the bone. 

The last Newshub Reid Research poll was conducted just after Ardern’s first big trip to Singapore and Japan. It wasn’t as mega as the US trip by any stretch but it was a perfectly fine first foray back into the world and the headlines for Ardern were overwhelming positive. New Zealand is back open for business, Ardern the expert salesperson etc etc. 

So for a slightly more apples and apples approach, look back at the polling after her last visit to the United States before COVID struck. 

It was also a massively successful trip, a speech to the United Nations, her bromance with Stephen Colbert was in full swing, she met the US President for the first time and had a string of high-profile interviews and meetings. 

But when she got back home in 2019, there was still a housing crisis, her party was still beset by controversies and scandals, including the Labour sexual assault investigation, Kiwibuild was still flopping. 

And so the poll I put to air one month after that 2019 trip had Labour taking an enormous knock. Down 9.2 to 41.6 percent. 

Labour’s doing even worse currently on 38.2 percent, and when Ardern gets home there will still be a cost of living crisis, uncertainty in the economy, entrenched poverty and inequities society-wide. There will still be workforce shortages, backed up health waitlists and growing geopolitical tensions in our region. 

Ironically, one of the best things about the trip for Ardern is giving Kiwis a bit of space from her. The level of vitriol every time she delivers a press conference from parliament has reached fever pitch. Perhaps those Kiwis who used to find her captivating but now find her cloying might settle a bit not having to listen to her every day, in the same way, talking about things that directly affect them. A bit of space can help a strained relationship. 

These trips are necessary, they are priceless for trade, business and tourism but they are also, politically, a bit thankless. Self-interest definitely shouldn’t factor into the PM doing her job on the global scene but if she or any of her supporters thought the way her presence is being received in America augurs well for her here at home, think again.