How can Jacinda Ardern extend her Labour honeymoon?
OPINION: Credit where it's due: Labour gets a perfect ten for the swift brutality with which it dispatched Andrew Little - and much of the kudos is owed the former leader himself.
Because Little played along, withdrawing gracefully and endorsing a successor, Jacinda Ardern can bask in a once-in-a-lifetime political honeymoon without being forced to bat away process stories that might otherwise undermine her legitimacy.
Just ask Julia Gillard what a luxury that is.
A gifted and consequential Prime Minister, Gillard never recovered after the vanquished Kevin Rudd's supporters managed to paint her as disloyal, untrustworthy and wildly ambitious.
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By contrast, Andrew Little, well out of his depth as Labour leader, has shown himself to be a self-aware person of generally good sense (a far cry from Rudd, in other words).
Politicians, relieved of the burdens of office, often show us their best selves when they head for the exits. Little certainly has.
So what now?
Scanning the media reaction, it's clear Ardern's ascension has injected welcome drama into an otherwise lifeless campaign. What felt like a dreary sequel now feels new and unpredictable.
Changing up leaders was the only card left in Labour's deck since most of their policy ideas are out there, costed and final.
Unlike minnow parties, Labour can't make up policy as they go along without fuelling doubts about its readiness to govern. And while dumping a leader weeks before an election entails the same risk, Little's worse-than-dire numbers led most MPs to conclude it was one worth taking.
Anything could happen, of course, but they're probably right.
Recently, when I assumed Little would limp through to the election, I wrote bullishly and at some length about Ardern's medium to long term prospects.
"If [she] puts her hand up," I wrote, "[Ardern] will enjoy the most comprehensive mandate, and the most wide ranging factional support, since post-1996 Clark".
Co-opting a Maori moderate in Kelvin Davis as deputy strengthens an already good hand.
But what of the campaign itself, during which the new leadership team won't have time or resources for the kind of party reform, electoral outreach and policy innovation that must ultimately define their tenure.
Here are three ways Ardern and Davis can leverage and extend what promises to be a rapturous honeymoon.
First, more than with words, Ardern must demonstrate with each step on the campaign trail that she (finally) gets the message that Labour has failed to live up its traditional mission.
"Show, don't tell" is a public relations staple for good reason. Ardern must persuade past and potential Labour voters, more and more of whom feel alienated by the party, that her leadership will be different.
She will listen (where predecessors haven't), broaden the party (where others have closed shop), embrace diversity in all forms (instead of heretic hunting and groupthink) and honour Labour's legacy as a party of future-oriented reform (not fall prey to the illusory appeal of reactionary populism).
The diary is the most potent comms tool in politics.
Ardern is immensely likable and disarming (but not, as one writer called her, "provocative - one gush too many). These assets should not be squandered, but placed on garish display in every meeting and photo op, at every RSA and suburban cafe she can find. Control the optics, control the message: Jacinda gets it.
Second, and somewhat counterintuitively, Ardern's team must ration her media appearances.
Jacinda doesn't have a name recognition problem but her brand could easily be diminished through overexposure.
Egged on by an often news-starved gallery, every Labour leader since Goff has succumbed to the habit of providing journos with thoughts on every yarn that crops up during the course of a news cycle - as if not featuring on news bulletin is a greater sin than constantly veering off message. It isn't.
(Shearer, not an especially smooth or expansive communicator, was especially damaged by this).
Ardern should channel her inner Garbo, insisting that she appears before the media only on her terms, and resist efforts to pounce on every passing Prius.
Finally, Ardern and Davis need to stake out a clear, and clearly differentiated, position on the Memorandum of Understanding with the Greens.
They cannot afford to underestimate the role Greens co-leader Metiria Turei's benefit fraud revelations played in Little's departure; and nor should they delude themselves that their latest round of musical chairs puts the story to rest.
The Turei affair exposed the risks of a Labour-Greens coalition, and flaws inherent in the MoU, far more graphically than even the most devastating imaginable National Party attack ad.
Forget the predictable bursts of moral outrage it set off on the Right, or the defiant virtue signalling on the Left (on this and every other issue, come to think it it).
Labour needs to craft a response to concerns about Turei and the MoU that is aimed squarely at swing voters open to Labour but nervous about a ramshackle coalition that includes a cock-a-hoop cabal of Greenies.
To date, Ardern hasn't deviated from Little era script on the MoU, but she must - even and especially if it sets off a war of words with her Green counterparts.
Labour voters - a far bigger group than those who consider the parties interchangeable - want to know that their party will take charge, clipping the wings of junior partners when necessary.
In Jacinda Ardern, a picture-perfect urban liberal, Labour could not hope for a better leader to deliver that message.