The rise and fall of Jacinda Ardern

Matthew Lesh in the UK Telegraph writes:

Jacinda Ardern oozes self-satisfaction, whether swanning about at Davos or lecturing the world on climate change and the importance of “wellbeing”. At first this young PM became the darling of the progressive world – many admired the feminist credentials, sensitive handling of the Christchurch mosque attack and zero-Covid strategy.

But the carefully constructed façade is wearing thin. No amount of positive global press coverage can disguise the lacklustre economic situation in New Zealand, the growing list of broken promises and mounting unpopularity at home. Ardern is on track to lose the next election, with the latest opinion polls indicating a 10 percentage point drop over the last six months. The centre-right Party, reinvigorated under Christopher Luxon, and the libertarian ACT Party, are both wooing voters.

This has been a dramatic fall from grace. Ardern’s Covid strategy was widely celebrated. Taking advantage of the island nation’s isolation, she introduced short lockdowns and border closures, and managed, at least initially, to eliminate the virus. In October 2020, she won a historic majority in the general election. But things began turning sour within months. The failure to vaccinate left the country isolated for much longer than elsewhere. By mid-2021, as the rest of the world was reopening, New Zealand embraced harsh lockdowns yet again. The borders will not fully reopen until the end of this month. Until recently, even many citizens were not allowed back into the country, a policy which tore families apart and left Kiwis destitute overseas. In one shocking case, a New Zealand journalist was forced to turn to the Taliban for sanctuary to deliver her baby after struggling to get home. For all that pain, the Covid reckoning has now arrived. An upsurge in cases has led to one of the highest daily death in the world and the reintroduction of restrictions, including a mask mandate and isolation requirements. It’s a gloomy turn of events for a country that is still unprepared to live with the virus.

I was in Australia a few weeks ago. I wore a mask to check in to my hotel. After a few minutes I noticed that I was the only person in the hotel wearing a mask. I took it off. For the next two days I’d say mask wearing was around 1%.

The loss of people has contributed to an acute skills shortage, with the system struggling to handle the influx of Covid cases and other ailments. School children are frequently being sent home due to a lack of teachers. Inflation has reached 7.3 per cent, a 32-year high, driven by rising food, fuel and rent prices that make life more difficult.

Meanwhile, a surge in violent in hollowed-out cities, including gang activities, shootings and “ram-raids,” in which thieves drive cars into shop fronts to steal merchandise, have made the public fearful. This has, at least in part, been driven by troubled children and teenagers, who fell off the radar when Covid-19 shut schools and haven’t been seen in class for two years. The broader economic situation has combined with a sense that Ardern has over-promised and under-delivered. In 2017, Ardern’s flagship promise was to build 100,000 affordable homes within ten years – just 1,366 have been built. The same week that Ardern was featured on the front cover of British Vogue, in the edition guest edited by Meghan Markle, her government abandoned the housebuilding commitment. Since then, the government has spent over NZ$1 billion on emergency grants, including buying up motel rooms.

A long list of failures.

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