The last week has been ragged for Labour, but it really does only have itself to blame. From the Darren Hughes saga to the 2018 Young Labour summer camp, to the latest sex scandal, Labour has struggled for a long time with a poor culture when it comes to sexual assaults on both men and women.

This is a culture that needs fixing, and Tracey Watkins thinks Jacinda Ardern is the person to do it.

The ugly side of abuse scandals like the one engulfing Labour at the moment is the number of innocent people caught up as collateral damage.

Reporters have been sent photos of entirely blameless men with red circles drawn around their faces; falsely identified as being involved, solely due to their ties to Labour. The senders are 100 per cent wrong but that’s how people fill the void when all the facts aren’t public.

Then there was the rumour that swept Twitter on Friday about the totally expected departure of a senior and highly respected politico from a temporary stint at the Beehive; he had been sacked, fallen on his sword, the Twitter mob proclaimed before it morphed into something even more accusatory, that he was THE ONE.

Again, 100 per cent wrong. The truth was more mundane; he was filling in for a staffer who has now returned.

This is the problem with cover ups. Those who have no idea who the alleged perpetrator is will go to any length to fill the void. Then again, lots of people, particularly in Wellington, do know who the accused is. But no one can say so, of course.

Ardern’s halo effect has blinded many of Labour’s supporters to the party’s appalling failings in its handling of the whole sorry, sad mess. Some still don’t get it. But pony tails, they protest. But Jami-Lee Ross.

But just contrast the last few weeks to former Prime Minister John Keys’ swift removal of Richard Worth from both Cabinet and subsequently Parliament after a serious sexual allegation. Of course the circumstances were different. Worth was in Cabinet only for as long as the prime minister wanted him there; it’s not the usual employment relationship.

Yeah, but John Key had substance. He understood how these things needed to be killed off as quickly as possible. So did Helen Clark. Loyalty is one thing, but putting your own reputation on the line for idiots is quite another. Neither Key nor Clark ever made that mistake.

Jacinda Ardern, however, is a babe in arms by comparison, and it shows.

But Key always had an antennae for political risk . Helen Clark was the same, a legendary micro-manager, the iron fist in an iron glove. Key for all his occasional goofiness, was as well.  Ardern’s nose for risk just doesn’t seem to be as sharp. The view from the top is that she was let down by her people.

But Key or Clark would have had their chief of staff haul the party hierarchy into their office as soon as the first whispers of a problem with young women complainants started to surface. The wounds from the Labour summer camp fiasco should have warned Ardern that Labour’s judgement was seriously wobbly on such matters.

Ardern’s judgement on such matters is not exactly crash hot either, now that you mention it.

No leader likes loose ends and there are plenty of those as Ardern prepares to head overseas this week. So expect her to announce further action before she steps on a plane. But it will have to be more than token – Ardern has to be clear that urgent, and painful, culture change is needed in the organisation she leads.


Anyone who thinks that Jacinda Ardern is capable of changing the culture within Labour is deluded. Don’t get me wrong. I am sure she would like to. I have no doubt that she is well-meaning, and genuinely believes in everything she says, but she has demonstrated over and over again that she is full of talk, but that is all. She really does not know how to make anything actually happen, and believe me, this will be no different.

From what I hear, she is going to have to change the culture of the party that has carried on for decades. That is a big call. Helen Clark clearly never managed this, although things were different in her day. There was no expectation that young women – or, for that matter young men – who volunteered for the Labour Party would not be sexually harassed. That is a much more recent phenomenon.

If Tracy Watkins thinks that Jacinda is really capable of this, she is not looking at Jacinda’s record. From Kiwibuild, to mental health, to taxation, to public transport, to funding the regions, to farming, to the business sector, to dealing with rogue MPs, Jacinda has proved indecisive at every turn. Her answer in every situation is to create a working group, appoint a committee, or ask someone to write a report. That is all she ever knows how to do.

“Back in NZ… busy sitting on the fence waiting for the working groups” Photoshopped image credit Pixy

The trouble is that she has already appointed committees, asked for reports and has now appointed a QC to deal with this issue, but it is still unresolved. It is unlikely that Jacinda will do anything decisive, because, to date… she simply never has.

Nothing will change. The evil sub-culture within Labour will continue. Eager young volunteers will still be preyed upon. Eventually, someone will fix this, and heads will roll. But Jacinda will not be the person to fix anything… because she doesn’t have a clue how to go about that.

And it shows.


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