ZB

Is criticism of PM's US trip fair - or just Tall Poppy Syndrome?

Author
Damien Venuto, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Tue, 7 Jun 2022, 7:23pm
There was a warm rapport between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and US President Joe Biden. Photo / Getty
There was a warm rapport between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and US President Joe Biden. Photo / Getty

Is criticism of PM's US trip fair - or just Tall Poppy Syndrome?

Author
Damien Venuto, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Tue, 7 Jun 2022, 7:23pm

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's tour of the US was met with standing ovations, celebrity interviews and strong diplomacy.

This positive reaction was far removed from the local politician who has been struggling in the polls and dealing with economic pressure at home.

NZ Herald political editor Claire Trevett tells the Front Page podcast that there was a levity to Ardern in the United States that hadn't been seen in years.

"When she's overseas she's quite a different person because she hasn't got the domestic [issues] to weigh her down," says Trevett.

"[In the United States], she smiled all the time, she made jokes and she just seemed lighter. It more like the pre-Covid Jacinda Ardern."

Trevett says that while the impact of the long-running impact of Covid has weighed on Ardern in the domestic context, the international community isn't as tuned into what's happening on the ground in New Zealand.

This is part of the reason the reception to Ardern in the United States has been so positive. Whether she's appearing on the Stephen Colbert show or receiving a standing ovation at Harvard University, there has been a real show of admiration for the Prime Minister during this trip.

This is, however, a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's important to see New Zealand's leader doing such a sterling job of selling the country, but on the other, it re-opens the door to the old misconception that Ardern is too focused on international affairs.

Ardern has long carried the criticism that she's better on the international front than she is in the local context, but Trevett says this rings hollow given all the work the Prime Minister has done over the past few years.

"That criticism was stipulated in her early years as Prime Minister when she appeared at the UN and was lauded as being female, young and for having a small child," says Trevett.

"It's her actions since then, which now attract the majority of the attention. The mosque attacks in particular, the Christchurch Call, her approach to climate change as well as her response to Covid."

Asked whether the criticism of Ardern on the international scene was just another example of tall poppy syndrome, Trevett says that a Prime Minister's appearances abroad are critical for the country.

"She's doing her job. That job is to leverage her popularity internationally for the benefit of New Zealand. And she does it very well. I don't think she's focusing on her international reputation. I think she's using it to try and do her job."

Trevett drives home this point further by saying that it makes little sense to criticise Ardern for being an international PM when she hasn't been able to travel for two years.

That prolonged gap has made it imperative for Ardern to get out and meet leaders face to face to ensure that New Zealand is considered when major decisions are made.

"The White House visit was important," says Trevett.

"That's the first time we've been to the White House in almost eight years. The trouble with the United States is that a change in the administration can undo years of relationship building, as we found out with Donald Trump.

"We now have Joe Biden in there, and he genuinely seems to be one with Ardern. If you have two leaders who get along and they're comfortable with each other politically, you have to go in and make the most of that while it lasts. If you don't front up when you're invited... then you don't get seen and you get left out when the US is thinking of doing something."

While this is integral for long-term diplomatic relations, it will do little to ease the economic pressure that many New Zealanders feel on the domestic front.

And with Labour and National currently neck and neck in the polls, the pressure will remain on Ardern as we march toward next year's election.

  • The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.
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