Why are Jacinda's media minders casting her as Snow White?

by Bill Ralston / 05 March, 2018
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford arrive in Sydney on March 1. Photo/Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford arrive in Sydney on March 1. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Jacinda Ardern

Jacinda Ardern needs to cut the sugar and start talking seriously.

It was truly awful. Many people commented online that it was “creepy”, describing his syrupy baritone questions as “sleazy”. It was Charles Wooley from Australian TV’s 60 Minutes oozing his septuagenarian charm all over our Jacinda and Clarke. His attempt to work out the moment of the baby’s conception was probably the lowest point of many low points during the programme.

Jacinda and Clarke, the “First Bloke”, according to Wooley, looked nonplussed but gamely answered. Part of me wants to blame the Ardern-Gayfords for the road-crash programme, because they’ve been asking for it. Since the election, they have specialised in “cutesy couple” stories. A recent sugary exposé about their first date is the latest journalistic atrocity.

However, Labour’s public relations people should have recognised the long-established fact that Australian 60 Minutes is way past its safe “use by” date and that, after a quarter of a century on the programme, Wooley, in most of his “human interest” yarns, is like those drooling old labradors that end up affectionately humping your leg.

The Prime Minister should realise there is an old maxim that says if you want to be taken seriously, start talking seriously about serious things. There’s no doubt she is a genuinely good communicator, relaxed, funny and intelligent.

Apart from the election debates in which she excelled, the problem to date has often been her content. Her media minders seem to want to cast her as Snow White in a Walt Disney world. She is much better than that, and if the trend of mushy, claptrap stories continues, over time she will find her stature considerably diminished.

Yes, leaders can and should smile, laugh and joke in the media. Even Winston Peters can emit a Muldoon-like grunting chuckle as he eviscerates a young reporter or two. However, too much happy chat and too little substance can lead to the impression that a leader is hollow, superficial and vacuous. I don’t believe Ardern is that, but her image will drift in that direction unless she gets a better grip on her media management.

I know Jacindamaniacs will scoff, burn this magazine and send me hate mail when I say this, but there seems to be a false perception among journalists and Government supporters that this administration is in a powerful electoral position and likely to remain in government for the next three terms. They overlook the fact that the second and third Labour Governments were out after one term, the fourth after just two. MMP has made the position even more unstable.

When a third party becomes part of a government, support dwindles rapidly. Ask the Alliance, United Future, the Maori Party – or NZ First in 2008. There is no guarantee Labour will get lifesaving support from its partners in 2020. Although, to be frank, there is also no guarantee that National will get help then, either, which makes its choice of new leader all the more important.

The task Simon Bridges faces is to either find a new party to buddy up to or get more than 50% of the vote at the next election. I think we can work on the assumption that Act is knackered and will be back with only one seat. Not enough, Bridges.

Maybe that idea of the Bluegreens will come to pass. A conservation party without the hard-left economics of the Greens. I wonder what Nikki Kaye is up to these days, and if National pulled out of running a candidate in Auckland Central, could that do the trick?

This article was first published in the March 10, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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