Nikki Kaye takes aim at Jacinda Ardern's 'Achilles' heel'

Jacinda Ardern's Achilles' heel is her team, says new National Party deputy leader Nikki Kaye. 

National has praised the Government's health response to COVID-19 in recent weeks, but insists it can't be trusted with the economic recovery after what's expected to be the biggest recession in perhaps 90 years. 

International credit agencies Moody's and S&P have both backed the Government's big borrow-and-spend plans, the latter reaffirming our AA+ rating in May and the former deeming us AAA in April.

But Kaye says she trusts what she hears on the ground over the experts.

"I had many conversations with small businesses in New Zealand, when you talk to them the reality is they are struggling," she told The AM Show on Monday.

Asked by host Ryan Bridge if Moody's and S&P were wrong, the Auckland Central MP said she places more trust in "businesses in central Auckland who have been struggling".

Kaye has twice narrowly beaten Ardern in electorate battles, the latter fleeing to Mt Albert and winning the 2017 by-election in a landslide a few months ahead of her promotion to Labour Party leader. 

Ardern has since become one of New Zealand's most popular leaders in history, according to recent polls which put her as two-thirds of Kiwis' favoured Prime Minister and with approval ratings in the 80s. 

Kaye's former boss Simon Bridges meanwhile was sliding backwards, falling to just 4.5 percent as preferred Prime Minister before being rolled on Friday. Kaye suggested his struggle to win over voters wasn't entirely his fault.

"You can never control the cards that you're dealt... It's unfair to make assessments when the reality is there are events that come your way, like COVID, and people deal with incredibly difficult situations."

Nikki Kaye.
Nikki Kaye. Photo credit: The AM Show

National is pinning hopes on Kiwis turning to National as the effects of the economic downturn start to bite harder.

Kaye said Ardern's weakness is she doesn't have a good set of people to choose from as ministers.

"What New Zealanders are going to want in this election campaign is to understand the delivery and how she's going to fix that, because it hasn't occurred. We've seen light rail stalled, we haven't seen 100,000 KiwiBuild houses and we also haven't seen a range of things delivered for what I think are vulnerable New Zealanders through this period. 

"I think her Achilles' heel is that she hasn't got the team to be able to deliver."

Parts of Auckland's light rail system were meant to be up and running by 2021, but construction hadn't even begun before the pandemic struck. Transport Minister Phil Twyford earlier this month used it as an excuse to put the entire project on hold.

KiwiBuild's initial 100,000 in 10 years target was dropped last year after Megan Woods took over housing from Phil Twyford, the former calling it "overly ambitious".

"What's wrong is the delivery, or lack of delivery, in terms of infrastructure in Auckland and housing," said Kaye. 

"It's one thing to have good press releases; it's another to be able to deliver the infrastructure, to be able to help people in hardship, and we've seen a lack of delivery. 

"But also, I think as Todd [Muller, new National Party leader] has said - and I completely agree - I believe we have the best team from an economic perspective to rebuild the country. I think everybody acknowledges the Government's done a good job - it's one thing to shut the country down, it's a total other thing to rebuild the country."

Despite the gloom, the number of housing consents issued has continued to rise under the Labour-NZ First Government, as it did under National from 2011, after the global financial crisis. And the recent Budget promised $5 billion for new state house building