The Front Page: Why neither Louisa Wall nor Jacinda Ardern look good in departure drama

Labour member of parliament Louisa Wall did not go quietly.

The media blitz after her resignation carried claims that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not want Wall in her cabinet or caucus.

These were quickly picked up in the media cycle, spreading across news publications.

Speaking to The Front Page podcast today, NZ Herald political editor Claire Trevett says that neither Wall nor the Prime Minister have come out of this situation looking great.

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“In the short term it does reflect badly, but I don’t necessarily think it will last,” says Trevett.

Given that Wall presented her disappointment without resorting to vicious personal attacks, Trevett believes this uproar won’t be a lasting stain on the Ardern or the outgoing politician.

Trevett also said that Wall likely wouldn’t take things further when giving her valedictory speech this evening, with the politician earlier saying that she’d prefer to focus on her electorate and the work she’d done.

Asked whether the fallout would affect Ardern’s perception as a leader who prioritises the idea of kindness, Trevett explained that this balance is always tricky for a Prime Minister.

“The kindness thing is a rod that the Prime Minister made for her own back,” says Trevett.

“It can’t always apply in politics or in any workplace when you’re the boss. There are always decisions you have to make that aren’t kind to people.

“She sacked Iain Lees-Galloway, for example, because of a workplace affair. Not many ministers would get sacked for that. They’d get told off. She’s demoted ministers for what wouldn’t be considered major underperformance. I don’t think it’s a matter of being unkind. It’s just a part of being PM.”

The fallout from the Wall saga did, however, carry a lesson in the value of dealing with disgruntled employees quietly and not allowing it to play out in the public.

“John Key was a master at it,” says Trevett.

“He dispatched his ministers very quietly – and the reason is that when you’re a dominant Prime Minister in the polls, then there’s no way a single MP can buck that. The rest of the caucus is always going to take the Prime Minister’s side and MPs learn that they either accept that or go out looking like an egg.”

On the topic of Key’s party, it is notable that the opposition has been relatively quiet as Wall’s story has run its course.

“There’s been a little bit of commentary on social media by some MPs. I think Chris Bishop has tweeted a couple of things, but not really getting into the stoush around it.

“It’s mainly about Louisa because they all worked quite well with her. There’s certainly the element of the personal relationship with Louisa.

“But also, remember when National was going through all its troubles, Labour kept their noses out of it. The Prime Minister made a decision and instructed her MPs not to wade in and kick them while they’re going through all this because we’ve been through it ourselves in the past and we know how horrible it is.”

Another interesting observation to gleaned from Wall’s departure is that maverick politicians with fierce convictions tend to face challenges operating within the structures of large political parties.

“We are definitely better off having MPs who want to rock the boat and stand up for their communities, but we can’t have too many rocking the boat – that would be slightly perilous,” says Trevett.

“I don’t know how a Government would function if there were too many of them because stability in Government is very important and you can’t just have MPs willy-nilly refusing to vote for something because they think it goes against their principles.”

Trevett said there are very few MPs who are genuinely and totally principle-driven.

“Wall is one and the others are former Greens MP Sue Bradford and the former Māori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, who crossed the floor, left the Labour Party and set up the Māori Party.

“They all put their principles above personal and career gain – and New Zealand is better off for all of them having done it.”

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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