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Governing is Ardern she thought

25 Jan 2023 | OP ED Watch

One politician who seems to have become exhausted by their efforts to remake the world through soothingly inspiring rhetoric is the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Jacinda Ardern just quit worn out and desperately unpopular despite having proved that you can “have it all”, and that government can solve a housing crisis and end child poverty without breaking a sweat, while fixing the weather in her spare time. Those who thought her a star, or a saint, because she sounded good lamented that she had left because she still sounds good. But the truth is that she got nothing done, not even emissions reductions, because she didn’t know how the world works.

Declaring in her resignation speech that “I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice”, she added:

“This has been the most fulfilling five and a half years of my life, but it has also had its challenges. Among an agenda focused on housing, child poverty and climate change, we encountered a major biosecurity incursion, a domestic terror event, a major natural disaster, a global pandemic and an economic crisis. The decisions that have had to be made have been continual, and they have been weighty.”

To which one is tempted to respond “Well duh, yeah, being PM is a big job.” But also that the big problem isn’t what came into her inbox, it’s what didn’t get into her outbox, namely effective solutions to pretty much any of that stuff including “climate change”.

One commentator allowed that “it’s perhaps understandable, if disappointing, that the inspiration for working mothers the world over might now want to leave politics to spend more time with her family.” And that, curiously, her plummeting popularity was due in part to hugely divisive COVID policies that led to “a protest movement that occupied the lawns in front of Parliament” with which “the government refused to engage.” Canadians would find it an oddly familiar account of a uniter who divided. But that commentator, while convinced that “the leader who inspired ‘Jacindamania’ and became an international progressive superstar” had accomplished nothing (“Even sympathetic commentators are examining Ardern’s legacy and asking ‘what was the point of all that?’”) blamed her failures on her being secretly right-wing: “Despite being hailed as the harbinger of a new, progressive Left, Ardern simply turned out to be more of the same.”

The Guardian snarled that “Over the past year, Ardern has faced a significant increase in threats of violence, particularly from conspiracy theorist and anti-vaccine groups infuriated by the country’s vaccine mandates and lockdowns.” NBC slightly more gently opino-reported that:

“Ardern, 42, has become a global progressive icon since her election in 2017 and won praise for her handling of the nation’s worst mass shooting and the beginning of the pandemic. But her approval ratings have plummeted at home, jeopardizing her re-election prospects and intensifying the vitriolic abuse she has experienced throughout her time in office.”

And the New York Times sanitized it to:

“Jacinda Ardern, who became a global liberal icon as New Zealand’s prime minister but faced deepening political challenges with an election looming at home, said in a surprise announcement on Thursday that she would step down as the country’s leader…. Ms. Ardern, 42, became prime minister in 2017 and won a historic re-election victory in 2020, largely on the strength of New Zealand’s response to Covid, which allowed residents to live a mostly normal life for much of the pandemic. But her party has since fallen sharply in the polls amid economic troubles and some highly publicized instances of violent crime.”

But really the problem was that talk is cheap and wishes are not horses. Another Guardian piece by a Labour member of the British Parliament said:

“Her resignation speech was the sort of rare and dignified moment that we have come to expect from her, as a woman who presented the world with the kind of leadership that uniquely lent on her emotional intelligence. I’ll miss her tone and grace. She leaves a legacy she can be proud of…. I have no doubt that she felt the constant guilt that pretty much every woman in the world feels the moment they evacuate their womb of a child.”

How about the constant guilt every writer feels who describes the miracle of childbirth in language more suited to a very different bodily function?

In a more lucid vein, the editor-in-chief of The Australian, Michelle Gunn, wrote of the “Empty end for ‘saint’ of left”, and said:

“Greg Sheridan writes: Ms Ardern was a dreadful prime minister of New Zealand who failed in substance but succeeded wildly in image. All her economic instincts were bad, all her strategic instincts were bad. She had a great desire to undo productive economic reform and remove or shut down the engines of economic growth for what should be a nation of limitless opportunity.”

There just wasn’t any there there. Which is what happens when you insist that all you need is love and brush aside practical concerns as ill-intentioned misdirection and sabotage.

She was praised by Australian PM Anthony Albanese for her “empathy” and “strength”. But, Anne Barrowclough argued in the Australian:

“Although known internationally as ‘Saint’ Jacinda, by early last year the sheen started to come off, when New Zealand’s drastic lockdown meant even Kiwis were banned from coming home. The tourist industry crashed and businesses around the country failed as the cost-of-living crisis grew – a potential disaster that the usually-deft Prime Minister at first denied was even happening.”

The result was quite a mess including on her most cherished files:

“Ms Ardern promised to build 100,000 affordable homes within 10 years; five years later, only 1366 had been built. Emissions have increased by 2 per cent since 2018, net migration has turned negative for the first time in decades as young people flee the country for better opportunities abroad – mostly in Australia – and crime has seen an inexorable rise with a spike in violent gang activity. Like the rest of the world New Zealand is bracing for a recession this year.”

Lavish praise for her achievements cannot conceal their absence… including from voters, among whom her approval rating was 29%.

5 comments on “Governing is Ardern she thought”

  1. Some people question whether Trudeau might follow the example set by Ardern to exit politics. Or perhaps the example set by JFK.

  2. Her government was racist, divisive, undemocratic and bullying. She has encouraged maorification of health, education, justice and local government. She has fostered bias in press and broadcasting. She has allowed the the English language to become infested with bastardised maori words of dubious reinterpreted meanings. She has allowed the sanitised reinvention of maori history and culture to permeate our schools. I do not hate Jacinda , rather I am fearful for my country where 15% maori are actively wanting power and governance over 85% non maori. I have 200 years ancestry in this country, is this not enough for me to have equality with the 15%.
    Her tenure has seemed a weird mix of her communist background, totalitarianism and wokism.

  3. I love the NYT claim that we lived pretty normal lifes during lockdowns? Oh such fond memories of fear, anxiety and isolation!
    But it has been the big talk up and promises that have been the let down to the rhetoric - $3billion spent on improving the mental health sector and not one additional bed has been created and an investigation by the NZ Auditor General has declared that they have no idea where all the money has gone to? $3b spent and no improvement in care?
    Oh and the housing debacle? Just more empty and unobtainable promises with a high price tag.

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