On a day when Donald Trump’s UN speech provided a reminder of the task ahead for Jacinda Ardern, her partner has shown he can keep things light – even if by accident, as Sam Sachdeva writes from New York.

As always, it seems we can rely on the so-called First Man to provide a lighter touch on the world stage.

Clarke Gayford, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s partner, has already regaled Twitter with his tales of watching cage fighting on TV with their daughter Neve and a Japanese delegation startled to walk in on a nappy change.

The latest revelation, from Ardern, was his accidental knocking over of a flag during a photo with US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania.

While Ardern blamed his “wide elbows”, Melania was reportedly more forgiving, telling Gayford not to worry about it.

In truth, Ardern herself may have been happy with the moment of levity in what must have been an uncomfortable moment of small talk with Trump.

The pair’s differences, already striking, were magnified when the US President took to the floor of the UN General Assembly – unexpectedly late, forcing a hurried reorganisation – to deliver his speech.

As Ardern said afterwards, there was little truly surprising in Trump’s speech: we already knew his distaste of globalism, instincts towards protectionism, and tendency to swear vengeance against his enemies (in this case, Iran, OPEC, and the International Criminal Court to name some).

Jacinda Ardern kept a straight face throughout Donald Trump’s speech, and fended off questions with a straight bat afterwards. Photo: Getty Images.

The most shocking moment came when UN delegates laughed at Trump’s claim that he had achieved more in two years than any other American president in history; Ardern, impressively, kept a straight face throughout.

She played a similarly straight bat afterwards, saying it would be wrong to “characterise” the reactions of others while it was up to the American people to judge their presidents’ achievements.

There was a tellingly pregnant pause when one Kiwi reporter asked her what from his speech she would agree with, although her eventual answer – his concerns about the effects of globalisation – was about as sound as she could have hoped.

She did point out that they differed in the prescription for that particular illness, with New Zealand long favouring multilateralism.

However, her response lacked the fire of her fellow political star, French President Emmanuel Macron, albeit in different fora.

Delivering his own general debate speech shortly after the US President, Macron decried “certain nationalism which we’re seeing today, brandishing sovereignty as a way of attacking others”.

While he did not mention Trump by name, his rhetoric seemed far more pointed as he defended initiatives the US President had tried to or succeeded in pulling down.

Threading the needle

Will Ardern go as far in her own address?

Perhaps, although it seems unlikely: Macron has the benefit of heading a P5 country and the power associated with that, while he and Trump are both prone to displays of machismo that Ardern may not feel inclined to match.

She will have the chance to get some Trump tips from him however, delivering a keynote address at Macron’s One Planet Summit on Thursday morning (NZT).

Before flying to New York, Ardern spoke of putting pressure on herself to deliver the right speech to the UN, and that may only have heightened now she is on the ground and the subject of some buzz.

She will have to carefully thread the needle between making a forceful case for the benefits of the rules-based order and against unilateralism, while – at least in part – framing it in a way that can appeal to those who believe the opposite.

After all, there is no point in preaching to the converted, and Ardern’s point about the shared concern around globalisation shows she is not blind to that.

Christiane Amanpour’s interview with Jacinda Ardern covered some heavy-hitting issues but also had a heavy focus on motherhood. Photo: Supplied.

She does have a few more opportunities to speak to a more clearly favourable crowd: in a panel on “the growing Euro-Asia alliance” at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum, where she will surely make another plug for the NZ-EU free trade talks; and in an interview with The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert (both on Thursday morning NZT).

The Colbert interview may be less tricky than her sit down with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, where she was asked about New Zealand’s poor domestic violence record, “incredible sexism” within the country in response to her pregnancy, and its appeal to “doomsday preppers”.

In all truth, about half of Amanpour’s interview did focus on Ardern as a mother, and that will continue to come to the fore until she flies out.

Despite predictable grumbling, that is no bad thing: anything which puts New Zealand on the map in a positive way will help at an event where any tangible victories seem unlikely, and former US Ambassador Samantha Power is among those to have welcomed photos of Ardern with Neve on the assembly floor.

There is serious diplomatic work to be done, and Ardern is doing it, but it’s not an either/or – not while Gayford is handling the parenting duties, and the comedy routines.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

Leave a comment