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Engagement ?news welcomed

Opinion Piece

As she has done so regularly over the past two years, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern dominated headlines last week — this time with the announcement that she and partner Clarke Gayford are engaged.

It is the kind of feel-good news that will throw gossip columnists into a frenzy and even increase her high personal approval rating.

National leader Simon Bridges was quick to congratulate the couple but he and his party will be aware that it might make next year’s election even harder to win. The 2020 election has been described by wags as the christening shout for baby Neve; now they could call it the wedding present.

There is a strong local connection of course, with Gayford a Gisborne boy and the proposal reportedly being made in Mahia over Easter.

More encouraging for National was the fact that financial support for the party remains strong. In the past year it received $740,000 in donations compared with just $173,343 for Labour.

Some of that has been ascribed to business donors who were worried about the possibility of a capital gains tax being introduced, a threat that has now disappeared.

It will be interesting to see if the level of support continues, while the National caucus will also be watching the polls extremely closely.

Ardern will have little time to relax as she moves further into the Government’s self-proclaimed year of delivery.

In that respect the report of the welfare expert advisory group out last week, which said the welfare system was badly flawed, was significant in light of the fact that the Government’s “Well-being Budget” is fast approaching.

Welfare Minister Carmel Sepuloni has already said the Government will remove the sanction imposed by the previous government on mothers (and their children) if the name of the father is not disclosed.

But she also said that responding to the 42 recommendations in the report could take years. Then there is the issue of child poverty, for which Ardern has taken personal responsibility.

All of which indicates that any honeymoon is going to have to be a short one.