Australian journalist Greg Sheridan doesn’t share the adulation of Jacinda Ardern:
No international halo is so shabby, or so fraudulent, as that worn by New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Politically she resembles Dan Andrews. They excel in woke gesture and progressive symbolism. Their achievements in real policy terms are thin or negative.
This is a judgment against the dominant narrative concerning Ardern, so let’s first acknowledge her strengths. . .
Ardern has done three positive things. She has just about eradicated COVID-19. She has navigated the politics of the virus so well she stands on the brink of electoral triumph. And she responded with moral clarity and decency to the Christchurch massacre. However, she has still been a poor Prime Minister, elected almost by accident under the Byzantine protocols of her country’s eccentric electoral system, though she won far fewer votes than the National government she replaced. . .
Ardern too is a global media superstar. It goes without saying that her achievements should never be diminished because of her gender or age; she was only 37 when she became Prime Minister. But undoubtedly part of the international Jacindamania comes from the fact she is a young left-wing woman who gave birth in office and took maternity leave. That is all wonderful but it has no bearing on policy achievement. . . .
The truly fatuous Maureen Dowd wrote a gushing profile in The New York Times in which she praised Ardern for trying to rescue refugees from Australia’s “hideous holding facilities in Nauru”. But wait a minute. The Morrison government in the budget just handed down will gradually reduce over four years Australia’s annual refugee intake from nearly 19,000 to about 13,000. Australia has 25.5 million people. New Zealand has five million people and takes around 1000 refugees or fewer a year. Whichever way you cut it, the Morrison government is vastly more generous to refugees.
But Vogue, The New York Times, Time magazine and the fatuous follies of the Nobel Peace Prize, which had Ardern in the running to win the prize, as Barack Obama did, for doing nothing at all, rejoice in the virtual Ardern, the idea of her as a living rebuke to Trump. That’s the point with progressive politics. It has almost nothing to do with competent government administration and useful policies reliably delivered, and almost everything to do with gesture, narrative and the endless recital of the progressive line.
Even on COVID-19, the Ardern government has done much less than it seems and at much greater cost than other countries have paid. There are other countries whose governments have even better records of eradicating COVID-19. And they are? Fiji with 32 cases, Solomon Islands with two cases and Vanuatu with none. Their leaders are not worldwide media sensations yet they got those numbers for the same reasons as New Zealand. They are isolated island nations. Auckland, with something over a million people, is one of the most isolated cities of its size.
The Ardern government was a bit slow to realise how serious COVID-19 was and when it finally responded it did so with overkill. It instituted one of the most severe lockdowns in the world. To give it its due, this was substantially effective in stamping out the virus. Progressive governments have typically been attracted to the most extreme versions of lockdown possible. Progressive politics is inherently authoritarian and enjoys bossing people around. Its key support base is typically government sector employees whose jobs are not lost in lockdown and it is inherently suspicious anyway of the capitalist economy it gets to close down at least for a while. . .
The Covid-19 response wasn’t hard and early as the government, and most media, keep telling us, but late and lax then harsh.
The more total your shutdown, the more you can eradicate COVID-19. It’s then a matter of keeping your borders shut. This, incidentally, is medieval plague policy — keep everyone out and keep everyone isolated until the plague runs its course.
New Zealanders embraced this policy for the sake of getting rid of the virus. But this is not remotely comparable to the achievements of nations such as Taiwan, South Korea and to some extent Singapore, which have kept the virus under control or out altogether while also keeping their society and economy going. . .
Sheridan points out that tourism and international education can’t restart and that the IMF Is forecasting our economic decline will be much longer than Australia’s.
Before COVID-19, Ardern was trailing in the polls. Her list of undelivered election promises is staggering: 100,000 affordable homes promised, 600 built; homelessness to be eradicated, it increased; zero carbon emissions by 2050, emissions went up; reduce child poverty, it went up; regional public service emphasis, more public servants based in Wellington than before; light rail from Auckland airport to CBD, abandoned. But then came the virus and she could do her high priestess of the woke religion stuff, day after day. Validated by a swooning international media, unchallenged by a tepid and under-resourced local media, she has sold the narrative that her government has saved NZ. With Peters gone, and the Greens more influential, she will move left in her second term, presaging a lost decade for our beloved cousins across the ditch. One consolation: the best of them will come here.
If our media had concentrated even a little more on performance than personality we’d have a lot more analysis of what Ardern and her government had done.
This, in the NBR, is one of very few criticisms of her record:
If the election had been a referendum on the progress that the government had made over the three years, I think we would have been in a very strong position.”
He said KiwiBuild had been a flop, Labour had abandoned fees-free tertiary education for the second year of study, the Auckland light rail project had flopped and the Provincial Growth Fund was a byword for pork barrel politics. The government had also done poorly on its promise to reduce poverty, with a number of indicators getting worse, mainly because rents had gone up as a result of government policies, he said.
The government had also inherited the public finances in good shape and recording surpluses, yet within two years it was forecasting a deficit before the additional borrowing required in the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak. . .
That comes from National’s finance spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith. He’s right but he’s not impartial.
Several media outlets here quoted Sheridan but where is our home-grown analysis of what the government has done?
It’s much easier to find the media adulation of the leader than it is to find criticism of her government’s performance but until Covid-19 struck polls had National and Labour more or less neck and neck.
The pandemic changed life and it also increased our media’s emphasis on personality at the expense of analysis of performance and none would dare highlight the shabby halo as Sheridan has.