If, like me, you thrill to see women running countries and companies, then Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s leader, was a tempting prospect. Her seduction of the world’s arbiters of respectable opinion was immediate and total, spawning glowing media headlines in the prestige press. “Arise, St Jacinda!” gushed one. “The Most Effective Leader on the Planet” crowed the Atlantic. One influential American sex podcaster even commended her superiority to US leaders on the novel basis that her early Covid lockdowns had enabled Kiwis to frolic free and date without fear of catching Covid when restrictions finally eased.
The Ardern effect is understandable. She is young, pretty, self-assured, feminist and a triumphant mother, who delighted in being the first female world leader to attend the UN General Assembly with her babe-in-arms in 2018. Her woke credentials are impeccable too. At 11 per cent LGBT, 50 per cent women, and with Maori and other indigenous peoples slightly over-represented, hers is the most “diverse” cabinet in the world.
Last November, fans cooed over the appearance of her now-three-year-old daughter, who had got out of bed and called “mummy” while Ardern was addressing the nation on the new Covid rules via video-link. By then, however, some were also pretty disconcerted to see their leader still addressing the nation from home, on a Zoom call. It was a jarring sight, skin to a time-warp, since for some months the rest of the West had resumed normal life, or at least attempted to.
But now, as Omicron gently settles there, Ardern’s New Zealand has lost any remaining halo of Covid superiority. It looks neither ‘compassionate’, nor even ‘tough’ or ‘hardline’ but completely pathological. Mad. Bonkers. Pitiable. And not without a whiff of totalitarianism.
You might think that a lefty as vocally committed to social justice and human rights as Ardern would shy away from draconian curbs based on a chimaera (zero covid). In the absence of a credible threat, it is a strategy whose main effect would be to destroy people’s livelihoods and will to live.
In fact, those who purport, like Ardern, to be the most virtuous and “inclusive”, the keenest on helping the marginalised, are often all too comfortable playing fast and loose with the little people’s lives: and the keenest on controlling everyone. They love power – so long as it’s in their hands – and Covid has provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for grabbing it.
As Britain threw off all remaining restrictions, while Western Europe loosened its most draconian measures and America, despite vaccine mandates in some states, largely roared ahead with business as usual, Ardern battened down the hatches yet again, pushing New Zealand back into code “red” in its “Covid protection framework”.
The trigger was nine cases of Omicron in a single family that had returned home to the South Island from Auckland. Yet with more than 90 per cent of the population double-jabbed, 57 per cent of those due boosters boosted, and high summer in full swing, the country should be in better shape than almost any other to shrug off Omicron with minimal disruption.
Not in Ardern’s New Zealand, where – as trapped and desperate Kiwis wail in the British press – beaches, towns and tourist sites are empty; starved of custom and the will of dejected locals to enjoy life. Ardern’s obsession with iron-fisted power is the only explanation for an escalation in restrictions that, in January 2022, makes no sense whatsoever.
To the increasing horror of trapped New Zealanders, Omicron-affected NZ households must now isolate for up to 24 days, while gatherings are capped at 100 in hospitality venues (25 if vaccine passports aren’t being used). But home-testing has effectively been outlawed: only ‘trained testers’ or medical staff can perform Covid tests, and the import of rapid antigen tests, such as those we in Britain rely on by the bucketload to keep life going, could end up in prison.
Ardern has cancelled her own wedding and once can’t help but feel that such showy martyrdom, which would be entirely avoidable under a sane Covid policy, has become a pillar of her leadership identity. “Such is life,” she said pseudo philosophically of her axed nuptials. Such is life under her rule, yes.
But the most chilling aspect of Ardern’s monomaniacal leadership is the complete lack of respect for borders – not their inviolability (she has shown that aspect of them to be firmly intact) but their prison-like oppressiveness.
Previously, it was possible to enter New Zealand, by winning a coveted slot in a quarantine hotel, where you would be watched over by military personnel throughout. But since the Omicron Nine, the country has now closed itself to all travellers. Tourism was once New Zealand’s biggest export, but too bad: the Dear Leader’s obsession with total control comes first.
Unlike many of my ideological stablemates, I actually think lockdowns had their place, and I have never bought the argument that Britain under Boris Johnson became China by stealth. Ardern’s New Zealand, however, is a different story, where lockdown mentality has been used to pursue a maniacally illiberal agenda.
Saint Jacinda, so woke, so feminist, so unimpeachable, has blinded the world with her virtue, and in so doing has made controlling Covid not a balance of risks, but an iron-fisted moral mission. Within that context, almost any amount of masochism can be justified.
Yes, New Zealanders may be “safer” from Omicron than any other population on earth, but, thanks to Ardern, they are being robbed of the freedoms that make life worth living, with no end in sight.