Saturday, January 29, 2022

David Cohen: In Fortress New Zealand, faith in Saint Jacinda is starting to fade

Jacinda Ardern recently told an American television host that she finds it ‘slightly offensive’ when outsiders assume every other New Zealander starred in Lord of the Rings. Quite so. New Zealand has only one real film star in 2022, and that’s the Prime Minister herself. But the way things are heading, she might best suit an adaptation of Lord of the Flies.

The place has gone mad. Many countries, even nearby Australia, have responded to the arrival of the Omicron variant by drastically easing many of their formerly draconian measures in response to Covid, in particular the widespread use of lockdowns, or what some might prefer to describe as mass house arrests. New Zealand’s government is not one of them.

According to the latest announcement, anyone known to be infected will now be required to lock themselves in their homes for 14 days. That is only the start of it, however, because anyone else in the house automatically becomes classified as a close contact; they must also now ‘isolate’ for the same period and then for an additional ten days as well. And if it so happens in those last ten days that one of the previously un-infected close contacts in your house tests positive then the whole process starts all over again. If Omicron spreads as quickly here as it has in other countries, it seems possible that at some point nearly every household will be forced into isolation.

Fortress New Zealand has also just closed its borders completely to outsiders. Tourists, visa-holders and citizens abroad will no longer be able to access the mandatory managed isolation and quarantine facilities that newcomers are required to pass through in order to visit. No date has been given for when the old system will resume.

Political opinion almost always tends to lag behind events, so it was pretty much guaranteed that something like the Covid crisis would ease before official anxiety would. Even so, at a time when many countries are doing all they can to return to some kind of normality, this latest swerve comes as a shock. What makes Ardern’s Omicron announcement even madder is that 77 per cent of Kiwis are fully vaccinated— a much higher proportion of the population than in most countries in the world, including the UK. If we are still facing such draconian measures now, it is hard to see how we will ever escape them.

Most striking of all, though, is the question of how any political leader this side of China could do all this without so much as the mildest challenge from what passes for the local media and scientific establishment, much less the culture at large.

There’s no disputing that Ardern and her ‘team of five million’, as she put it, have made it through the pandemic in pretty good collective shape. New Zealand — which has fewer intensive care beds per head than almost any other country in the OECD — has had just 52 Covid deaths in the past two years. On the other hand, it was always possible that Ardern’s apparent success in riding the pandemic wave may simply have been one of the perks of leading a sparsely populated, far-flung island nation.

It has also been her good fortune to be in charge of what has long been recognised as a politically demure populace. Kiwis are not politically screamy like the Americans, still less given to kicking back against bureaucracy like the British. Shortly after arriving in New Zealand from London in the late 1930s, Karl Popper marvelled over what appeared to him to be ‘the most easily governed’ people on the face of the earth. The champion of open societies did not mean this as an un-alloyed compliment.

When it comes to Ardern, the international media is fairly easily governed too, as any random internet search will show. ‘The most effective leader on the planet,’ according to the Atlantic; a global headmistress in the ‘masterclass’ of world leadership, breathed the New York Times; and an ecclesiastical headline from the Financial Times proclaimed: ‘Arise, Saint Jacinda!’

For many New Zealanders, faith in Saint Jacinda is starting to fade. Her poll ratings have been dropping fast since the end of last year, although she is still far ahead of her competition. As many of us face the enforced privacy of our gated living rooms in the coming weeks, perhaps more will ask: how does she get away with it?

Announcing the punishing new rules, Ardern was quick to point out that she, too, will be paying something of a personal price with the cancellation of her own imminent wedding plans.

‘Such is life,’ she said with a rueful smile.

David Cohen is a Wellington-based writer and journalist whose work has appeared frequently in publications in New Zealand and abroad. This article was first published HERE 


Ray S said...

How does the government and Jacinder keep everybody doing what they want?
Keep the Covid fear alive and kicking.

People fear the unknown and unseen, invariably they will turn to the government for help and appeasement of their fears. They will then do whatever the government wants.
Is Jacinder driving it? maybe, but someone is pulling her strings.

DeeM said...

Yes, Ardern and her cheerleaders are control freaks but the really disappointing thing in all this is that a majority of Kiwis appear to like being told exactly what to do, with whom and when to do it.
Karl Popper does seem to have been right on the money. NZ is the perfect country for an authoritarian regime to exert control.
The question is - will the majority of Kiwis finally grow a pair and tell our exalted PM where to go? I'm not putting any money on that one based on the public reaction over the past year.

Janine said...

There was never a team of 5,000,000. This is just a media fabrication the same as " Jacindamania". It is really frustrating that overseas reporters don't bother to look at what is actually going on here. Most countries have alternative media sites such as Sky in Australia and Fox in the US. We don't. I am talking MSM here.

I don't think overseas citizens (in democracies)could possibly know what it is like to have only one point of view being thrust upon the populace. It has a profound effect on what they believe. Especially those who don't seek out alternative information.

On top of that, the big issues like He Puapua, Three Waters, The land and foreshore ownership cases and the separist policies being planned are not discussed openly. I believe many New Zealanders don't realise what this will mean for their future lives.

That is why I am so disappointed with our opposition politicians.

Terry Morrissey said...

I am not entirely convinced that the PM and her sychophantic government have the required intellect to plan. They have, after all, failed at every project that they threatened to complete.
Is she not an acolyte of Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, along with Trudeau, Macron, Johnson and co.?
Strange that they all have been hard-line on mandates.
As Ray S says, “Someone is pulling her strings.”

RRB said...

Don't know where you have been hiding Mr Cohen (Marxist chairman Aderns popularity is fading), her popularity never existed. Joe Bloggs always votes for a face ahead of sensible necessary policy's.
The Fourth Estate is mostly to blame for our political situation today by withholding relevant facts about the labor candidates communist, Marxist and Globalist backgrounds which all use democratic institutions to destroy democracy from within. (Coupled with the Sherry sippers in the "Born to Lead" National Party who really do deserve to fade away.)

Niknmic said...

Arderns deliberate destruction of NZ largest export sector will set us back 60 years. We are going backwards to a complete reliance on primary production. We are sliding away from our developed economy status and losing our balanced democracy. Dangerous instability lies ahead.