She's With Me: It wasn't quite Mickey Savage's "where she stands, we stand; where she goes, we go", but Jacinda Ardern's open-ended support for Theresa Mays Brexit-beleaguered Britain came pretty close. What has become of "transformational" Jacinda? Can she still "do this"?
WHAT’S HAPPENED to Jacinda? What’s become of the young woman who captivated the electorate sixteen short months ago? The Jacinda who promised New Zealanders a “transformational” government inspired by the politics of kindness. Where has she gone?
Surely the New Zealand Prime Minister who earlier this week pledged to stand by Britain: “Whatever you decide about your place in the global community”; cannot be the same woman who turned up to Buckingham Palace proudly wearing a Maori cloak? That Prime Minister would never have boasted (in the right-wing Daily Telegraph of all places!) that “around four in every five New Zealanders still claims British heritage”. She would have left that sort of racially-charged rhetoric to Donald Trump.
Except, of course, it was New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who said those things. The very same Jacinda Ardern who’s been guilessly decorating the “loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires” who gather every year at the exclusive ski resort of Davos in the Swiss Alps.
It would seem that we misunderstood the Labour leader when she promised us a transformational government. Our naïve assumption was that she intended to transform New Zealand society when, clearly, it was herself she was determined to transform.
There will, of course, be a great many Kiwis who cannot get enough of their PM’s global celebrity status. Seated on the same stage as Sir David Attenborough. Discussing mental health with Prince William. What’s not to like? Jacinda is only going where Bono has so boldly gone before.
And yet, while our prime minister is rubbing shoulders with the good and the great at Davos, thousands of New Zealand’s most vulnerable citizens are without adequate accommodation and forced to rely upon grossly over-stretched food banks to feed their children.
While she earnestly discusses mental health issues with William Windsor, her Health Minister back home is, disgracefully, holding the cloaks of New Zealand’s DHBs while they attempt to stone the Resident Doctors Association to death.
While she lends her most solemn and concerned expressions to Sir David Attenborough’s desperate pleas for urgent action on global warming, her “green” government is frantically fabricating new and ever-more-ridiculous excuses for, once again, letting New Zealand’s farmers off the climate change hook.
It is to be hoped that somewhere between all her high-powered forums and Davos’s swanky cocktail parties our prime minister is lucky enough to run into a wealthy venture capitalist by the name of Nick Hanauer. He would be the same Nick Hanauer whose opinion-piece, “A stake through the heart of neoliberalism”, was recently posted on the Newsroom website.
“I am a practitioner of capitalism”, declared Hanauer, “I have started or funded 37 companies. I was the first outside investor in Amazon. I have been rewarded obscenely for my success, with a life that the other 99.99 percent of Americans can’t even imagine. Yet the most important lesson that decades of experience at the heart of market capitalism has taught me is that morality and justice are the fundamental prerequisites for prosperity and economic growth. Greed is not good.”
Hanauer’s solution to global inequality is refreshingly straight-forward: “A fundamental prerequisite for a more just society is that the wealthiest should pay their fair share of tax.”
If only this clear-eyed billionaire could contrive to sit down with Jacinda and her Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, for a few minutes and explain this to them. Coming from a person as rich and successful as Hanauer, this simplest of social-democratic truths might have a better chance of being accepted than when advanced by the churches, the trade unions, Oxfam, and even one or two of the less star-struck members of their own party.
How sad that it has come to this. That a member of the 0.01 percent sees more clearly what must be done than the young woman who, just sixteen months ago, invited her fellow citizens to “Let’s do this!” How tragic that, sixteen months later, so few of those same citizens have the slightest idea what the “this” that she enjoined them to “do” actually is.
Jacinda is the most accomplished ambassador for New Zealand to have graced the global stage since David Lange bowled-over the Oxford Union. That is not, however, enough. Jacinda is not New Zealand’s MC, she’s our PM.
It’s time for her to start acting like one.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 January 2019.