Thursday 7 October 2021

Will Jacinda Stand? Or, Has She Already Fallen?

Free Falling? New Zealanders needed to hear Jacinda take a firm line on vaccination, issuing stern warnings to those who declared their intention to refuse. Kiwis just weren’t in the mood to let lockdown evaders and anti-vaxxers free ride on their good citizenship. Google’s IT wizards confirmed that Kiwis were, overwhelmingly, staying in their bubbles. The lockdown was holding. They were keeping the Covid faith. It wasn’t New Zealand who blinked, it was Jacinda.

MATTHEW HOOTON has raised the possibility of Jacinda Ardern being gone by Christmas. He puts forward the scenario (Paywalled) of New Zealand becoming as debilitated and beleaguered by Delta as New South Wales and Victoria. With the number of community cases surging above a thousand every day, the hospitals overwhelmed, and people dying for lack of ICU beds, Hooton insists that not only would Jacinda be obliged to go, but also, being a fundamentally decent person, she would want to go. The unfolding Covid disaster being of her making, the Prime Minister would see it as her moral duty to resign.

Sadly, Hooton’s scenario is by no means preposterous. Were New Zealand to be overwhelmed by the Delta variant of Covid-19, the Prime Minister and her government would have to accept that the disaster occurred on their watch. Jacinda and Chris Hipkins, her Covid Response Minister, would have no choice but to resign. The Right would, of course, be delighted at this turn of events, and the Left devastated. New Zealand would be in an ugly, truculent, mood. Many people would be very frightened. The future would be bleak.

How did it come to this? At what point did Jacinda’s extraordinary saga of Covid success suddenly pivot towards failure?

Most New Zealanders would identify the Trans-Tasman Bubble as the culprit. The whole idea was fraught with the most awful potential for disaster. Opening our borders, even to the Australians, was seen (by what the pollsters told us was a majority of the population) as an unnecessarily risky proposition.

Most Kiwis saw the Bubble as the product of incessant lobbying by the tourism and hospitality industries – egged-on relentlessly by the news media. Put to a vote, the proposition would, almost certainly, have been defeated. That Jacinda and her colleagues scorned the backing of the people, and succumbed to the pressure of vested interests, was taken, by her followers, as a very bad sign.

To some degree, the edge was taken off their disquiet by the Government’s repeated warning to those determined to take advantage of the Bubble that they were doing so against its advice and at their own risk. If the Bubble burst, and they found themselves trapped, then they would be on their own. The New Zealand state would not be sending planes to rescue them.

Why the Government didn’t stick to its guns when, inevitably, the Bubble did burst, is perplexing. Once again the majority wanted Jacinda to show the travel-gamblers some “tough love”. And, once again, she ignored them, and allowed herself to be pressured into sending rescue aircraft by the news media.

It was a fatal error. By refusing to stand firm, the Prime Minister had effectively invited the media and business groups to keep her and her government under constant pressure. If a politician shows that she can be moved, then she will be moved.

Inevitably, and as a huge number of Kiwis had predicted from the outset, those two decisions: to establish the Bubble; and then to bring the travel-gamblers home; brought the Delta variant of Covid-19 into New Zealand.

At first, Jacinda still appeared to know exactly what to do: Go hard. Go early. The world laughed at New Zealand: hurling itself into a draconian lockdown in response to just one community case seemed wildly excessive. But its citizens were quietly proud of their leader’s decisiveness. This was their country’s extraordinarily successful “elimination strategy” at work. This was how you “stamped-out” the virus – by staying home and staying safe.

It was at this point that the business community and the news media, confident that the Prime Minister and her colleagues could be spooked into doing exactly the wrong thing, unleashed a no-holds-barred campaign to abandon the elimination strategy. By “learning to live with the virus”, said the business community (ably assisted by their political and media mouthpieces) New Zealand could once again open itself up to the world. As soon as 90 percent of Kiwis got themselves vaccinated, the whole country would be able to relax and settle into a new normal.

It was dangerous nonsense, of course. Moving out of Level 4 before 95 percent of the country had been vaccinated, or, before the number of community cases had fallen back to zero, was asking for trouble – and the scientific community urged the Government to keep the country locked down tight. Tragically, Jacinda and her government were no longer being guided by “the science”. Somewhere along the way, Jacinda had lost faith in her “Team of Five Million’s” ability to stay the course. Somehow, a virus of political doubt and indecision had started spreading amongst her ministers and advisers. Fatally, she allowed herself to be persuaded to move New Zealand out of Level 4.

And the rest we know.

Yes, yes, yes! People were weary of lockdown. That is true. But they were also very wary of relaxing their grip. What they wanted, what they needed, was the sort of clear, calm leadership Jacinda had provided during the first nationwide lockdown.

New Zealanders needed to hear Jacinda take a firm line on vaccination, issuing stern warnings to those who threatened to refuse. Kiwis just weren’t in the mood to let lockdown evaders and anti-vaxxers free ride on their good citizenship. Google’s IT wizards confirmed that Kiwis were, overwhelmingly, staying in their bubbles. The lockdown was holding. They were keeping the Covid faith.

It wasn’t New Zealand who blinked, it was Jacinda.

In his vast epic poem, Paradise Lost, John Milton described humankind as “sufficient to have stood, but free to fall”. Those words may yet serve as the epitaph of Jacinda Ardern’s career. In 2020, the whole country witnessed the extraordinary sufficiency of her leadership, and how it allowed her country to stand against the Covid-19 virus. How tragic it would be if 2021 is remembered – as Hooton clearly hopes – as the year she freely chose to fall.

But, is “freely” really the right word? How long can any politician be expected to stand against the sort of political and media pressure our Prime Minister has been forced to endure? How strong can she be if her own colleagues are counselling her to take the path of least resistance? How would our wartime leaders have fared if they had been required to endure the same lies and half-truths; the same reckless appeals to base emotion; and the same shameful absence of patriotic restraint; as Jacinda Ardern? These are questions which the National and Act parties, along with the solipsistic show-ponies of the mainstream media, should be required to answer.

Because it is possible that, until very recently, Jacinda remained sufficient to have stood. Which means that, if all Covid hell does break loose, and she is forced (not least by her own conscience) to resign, then we should all ask ourselves: Did she freely fall – or was she pushed?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 7 October 2021.


David George said...

I don't see Ardern resigning, I think people appreciate that the elimination strategy was, at best, aspirational given the contagiousness of the latest variants. What might prove her undoing is the financial hole we're digging. Borrowing a thousand million a week to cover the housekeeping has it's consequences: a run on the dollar and the consequent rising interest and inflation rates and severe spending constraints down the track would certainly be a problem for the next election.
Robertson was putting on a brave face (bullshitting basically) that the economy was just fine, GDP up 3% or something. That is simply delusional and he knows it. Our economy is getting a mainline injection of borrowed money (equivalent to 17% of GDP) that goes straight onto the GDP figures. We're small and isolated and the sharks smell blood in the water.

oneblokesview said...

Interesting scenario.
You seem to have left out the Leadership vacillating over obtaining the Vax.
No mention of the absolute failure to ramp up medical facilities/capacity for the inevitable.

Follow the science. Surely you mean following the pseudo science of her trusted few.
Including the tea leaf reading experts(Modelers).

With the advent of the Internet, hundreds and thousands of Kiwis can read whats happening around the world. The daily Jacinda propaganda TV show has developed some serious cracks.
Sure people want the facts, but not embedded in lots of waffle and political statements.

The biggest flaw however has been a lack of a serious plan. Its all make it up on the fly.
I dont blame Jacinda totally for that. A large portion of that blame rests with the Director General of Health and his seeming inability to get things done in a timely fashion

You mention 90/96% vaxed and compulsion(what will you do if someone refuses a jab? )

Neither will solve the problem as a quick check around the world will attest.

Portugal, Singapore and Ireland with very high vax rates(certainly not 95%) still have cases and deaths. But they seem to have a plan.
Sheesh, even NSW has a plan.

And yet lowly vaxed(relatively speaking) Taiwan has recovered from a serious outbreak (198 deaths a week) and returned to almost zero(1 or 2 deaths a week)

I see that Singapore, Australia and others have orderd the new magic pill from Merk. What has NZ done? Nothing.

Denis said...

The general impression down here in Christchurch is that she's a goner.

Conversation in my office was that it feels like that period before John Key resigned.

PaulVD said...

Oh come, Chris. We all know that if there is a Covid explosion it will be the fault of Nine Long Years of Neglect.
It will have nothing to do with the fact that Jacinda Ardern, while a brilliant communicator, is a hopeless manager and has presided over the most incompetent government since the Forbes/Coates days.

Barry said...

Firstly she wont resign – almost no matter what. Shes a died in the wool socialist (as is Hipkins an many others in Labour) and a disaster is simply an excuse to impose more socialist measures.
Her big mistake has been to exclude National and ACT from what I would call a “Covid Cabinet” as opposed to the normal Government Cabinet. (What did Muldoon say about pissing into or out of the tent……) Maybe after the first lockdown they thought ‘what do we need something like the opposition Covid Committee for – we can handle this. It’s a breeze”

From the day that it became obvious that Covid was on the move and that people were getting really sick and dying the Government knew that NZ did not have enough ICU type beds. We are woefully equipt with these for even normal times.
They also knew fairly early on (from overseas data) that people from the likes of Northland and South Auckland would be trouble. There are several thousand young Maori and Pacifica who aren’t even registered as being born in NZ – the parents either being too lazy or perhaps thinking that they don’t have to be registered – having been convinced by the likes of the Maori Party MPs that being Tangata Whenua they didn’t need to comply with such ‘Colonisers’ rules.. There are over 10,000 school aged kids not registered with any school. There will be many more who don’t even know that they have a NHI number.
However even knowing this (and more no doubt) Ardern and her advisers decided to go Political on the whole thing and to not give any or too much influence to the health and cost aspects. They thought they could beat it and it would be a GREAT political win.
But they started lying. We now know that Hipkins blatantly lied when he said a week before the election that “We were at the front of the queue”. That was a political statement.
Opening to Australia was – even then – a disaster waiting to happen. There were potentially very limited upsides and enormous, disastrous downsides.
So instead of getting all her Maori MPs and the Maori party into a little meeting and telling them that now was the time to front up and get out to places like Manukau and Northland and ask, plead, cajole and even kidnap them to get vaccinated – nothing. Only the usual excuses did we here from them all. In the last week the co-leader of the Maori party has been spewing out all sorts of blame excuses for the low vaccinated rate. She has no shame and is doing more harm than everyone else in NZ put together.
The government SHOULD HAVE laid down the hardline on vaccination passports long ago. Along with mandatory vaccination for many roles. But still they vacillate about it. They roll out the ‘rights’ argument. Bugger individual rights – societies rights are much bigger.

Now large numbers have had enough and no matter what they impose internal borders are going to be more and more ignored.
It will get messy.

Simon Cohen said...

Jacinda didn't blink, she had her eyes closed. Ever since she was lauded as the greatest prime minister of all time she has been oblivious to what has been required .Vaccinations testing, ICU, etc etc etc .
Time to stop blaming everyone else Chris and put the onus for all the errors on her. After all she gloried in her fame when the going was good.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Firstly she wont resign – almost no matter what. Shes a died in the wool socialist (as is Hipkins an many others in Labour) and a disaster is simply an excuse to impose more socialist measures."
Anyone who says this, is either disingenuous or doesn't know what socialism actually is. Therefore I stopped reading at the end of that sentence because it's obvious you will have absolutely nothing relevant to say.

Tom Hunter said...

I have to admit being tempted to comment on another post of yours when it appeared on Monday morning, given the news many of suspected was coming that afternoon, the end of the Zero-Covid strategy.

1. Queen's Pawns Take Bishop.

2. Black Pawn to E1. Convert to Queen.

3. Black Queen takes White Queen.

4. Checkmate.

Kat said...

Business knows best and whats best for business is best for the country and the vampire wide boys have written the script and the politicians on the right with their shills in the media are moving their lips and interviewing their keyboards to the voices of the chattering filling the air with the thunder clouds of misinformation and dissent designed to break her heart.

Here's one for the free fallin of it all:

sooty said...

Never underestimate the impact of Helen Clark facilitating the medivac of the very sick covid case from Fiji!
What was the outcome of that person? Recovered and departed or died and would a death show up on the NZ records, or Fiji?

Phil said...

I think the Government were actually more concerned about unrest in Auckland and taking a popularity hit. The Government is in trouble over 3 Waters. Who is in charge Jacinda or Nanaia. I wonder if Jacinda will resign rather than fight the 3 Waters battle which is coming if the Government doesn't back off.

The Barron said...

Many in the right have consoled themselves over their astounding failure with the view that this Government is a one-trick-pony. I think this is lazy self-indulgent analysis which will be a barrier to National Party recovery. ACT has shown that having a consistent Covid19 policy (which I disagree with, but it is clear) allows an opposition party to engage issues beyond the outbreak. With Seymour I am always drawn to the final line of Werner Herzog's 1977 master piece 'Stroszek', "can't stop the dancing chicken'. National is chasing its own decreasing tail.

Nick J said...

Covid has the ability to make or break governments. The Right wont win through any deed of their own, nor fresh thinking. Nothing required, sit tight, dont offer ideas because they might be proven wrong.

The Left by comparison are like Jellicoe at Jutland, they can lose the war in a day, but they dont have to win, just remain dominant. They are however with this pandemic doing a great impression of the second day of the Somme. "Righto lads, once more over the top, more spirit, do it harder!"

They (the Left) are not learning. The vaccine (as figures from overseas sites such as CDC and WHO indicate) doesn't stop transmission, nor is it highly effective at preventing infection. It does give a greater chance of survival. Lock downs are being abandoned as ineffective. If even I can pick this up from official sites??????? The people follow because they are rightly fearful. Being fearful is good but when the house starts to burn down and the fire brigade has no water (or in UK no fuel) the peoples fear will turn to anger. Watch out Jacinda.

Barry said...

The great advantage of a 'free speech' structured society is that people can make comments and opine opinions and if one disagrees then normally people responed with rational coherent arguements pointing out the faults and errors. Rarely the responses are a bit silly and are best ignored.......

Anonymous said...

"those determined to take advantage of the Bubble" are responsible for the arrival of the delta strain in Aotearoa and their names will not appear in the history books.

Chris Morris said...

Anonymous at 18:27 shows exactly the attitude needed to be a fully paid up member of the smug hermit kingdom. NZ cannot isolate itself from the rest of the world. We need them more than they need us. They don't know how it came in (Case 1) but it is known that the facilities for controlling border entry were very poorly managed at a policy level. That is a Government's fault.
There was 18 months to prepare and there was no plan, no contingencies, just kneejerk lockdown. They don't work, just like masks don't work. But we still do both. Isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing again and hoping for a different result?

Odysseus said...

COVID is clearly a long game. We had an early victory but squandered the opportunity to remake our defences. Instead of building our capacity to win the next round we spent the time devising a race-based health model and squabbling with the nurses over their pay and conditions. Now we are facing the prospect of many deaths, especially in poorer communities, as Delta successfully penetrates our ill prepared defences and is poised to explode. This failure demands Ardern's resignation.

Kat said...

@ Chris Morris

"They don't work, just like masks don't work.........."

Obviously you don't want to be taken seriously.


Jens Meder said...

But does not Ms Carrot go for the same result as Mr Stick in 1951 only in a more gentle and persuasive way ?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"nor is it highly effective at preventing infection."

No vaccine is completely effective. Many flu vaccines are only between 40% and 60% effective at preventing infection and yet they do a very good job of fighting the flu.

I guess so that we should be grateful that you're not going on about microchips or infertility.

DS said...

>>>Anonymous at 18:27 shows exactly the attitude needed to be a fully paid up member of the smug hermit kingdom. NZ cannot isolate itself from the rest of the world. We need them more than they need us.<<<

Those of us who don't partake in expensive overseas holidays, or need imported serf labour to pick our apple crops, are actually just fine without the outside world. The border isn't closed to goods after all, only people, and the neoliberal hysteria about the evils of isolationism is truly a sight to behold.

Chris Morris said...

Unlike you Kat, I actually read things like ECDC papers, especially metastudies, and can understand them. I also know correlation is not causation. Here is one.
Note the conclusions "Although there is only low to moderate certainty of evidence for a small to moderate effect of the use of medical face masks in the community for the prevention of COVID-19, the balance of results towards a protective effect across the wide variety of studies reviewed, the very low risk of serious adverse effects and applying the
precautionary principle leads us to conclude that face masks should be considered an appropriate non pharmaceutical intervention in combination with other measures in the effort to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not exactly a vote of confidence. And the comparisons were often done with properly fitted one use N95 masks - almost no-one outside of hospital does that.

For every place with lockdowns or compulsory mask wearing, there is a very similar control without them that has had similar Covid case results. North and South Dakota are case in point. And how is the lockdown going in Victoria?

Trev1 said...

This is what the people are saying. The song of the resistance to bad rule: Enjoy!

MikeMan said...

Still in Middle more 70 days later according to an article I read last night on one of the mainstream platforms

Kat said...

Well Mr Morris did you or did you not write: "They don't work, just like masks don't work.........."

That is a fairy unequivocal statement, is it not.

And now you provide written material that states they do work as an intervention in combination along with other measures in controlling Covid.

I do like reading, but you may have a point about one aspect though, I could be completely unlike you.

Chris Morris said...

Kat You don't seem to want to acknowledge that the evidence shows lockdowns do not work, just like the evidence shows facemasks don't work. Here is just one on the metastudies that details it.
When you do a number of things together and in some places the combination works and others they don't, then they don't work. When you have equivocal studies - they don't work. Just one failure invalidates the hypothesis unless you can prove the differences - that's fundamental science 101, at least it was in my day.

Chris Morris said...

Here is Hawaii's data where they had mandatory masks and lockdowns.
Or here are California districts:
Here is Peru where they did both masks and lockdowns
Or even Israel where they have had masks, lockdowns and very high percentage of vaccinations.
So Kat, I can back up my statement that lockdowns and/or masks don't work with actual evidence.

Kat said...

Mr Morris why don't you just move the goal posts to include the 1m rule, the 2m rule or even the keep your distance queuing at the supermarket rule. Now you are talking about lockdowns, and not face masks. I suspect lockdowns do not work as much as the rules for driving on the left do not work in countries that drive on the right.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure she would resign, only for either her heir apparent Grant Robertson (who is almost equally highly associated with the government and its policies), or indeed even someone relatively unknown, to pick up the leadership and the role of Prime Minister. That doesn't make a lot of strategic sense within the Labour party, nor would it be an effective way for a government to attempt to atone for any perceived failings.

The preferred option would be to 'go to the country' early, instead. That way the public would have the opportunity to pass judgment on her performance, and the calculation would be, of course, that the public would be forgiving enough, snatching away only a handful of backbenchers, possibly pushing the Greens closer to the centre of power.

On this latter point, the temptation of that as an opportunity to deal a twin blow to National (with Act hoovering up support on the right, and strategic National-leaning voters who want more of a right-leaning government once again bolstering Labour to keep the Greens out of government) and make National's current abysmal polling concrete might also be quite strong.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Lockdowns don't work?

"The main basis for this claim is that cases on self-reporting apps such as Zoe seem to fall before lockdowns are implemented, but the people who diligently report their symptoms daily for these apps may not be representative of the wider population. According to more representative surveys, lockdowns have always been the point at which rising cases have begun to fall. The ONS infection survey shows that the infection rate in the UK on 18 December 2020 was one in 85, and this rose to one in 50 by 2 January 2021. It was only after this point, when a nationwide lockdown was imposed, that cases began to fall.

The same is true for the November and March lockdowns, with one study concluding that, if lockdown been introduced a week earlier in March, it “could have reduced the first wave death toll from 36,700 to 15,700… while delaying lockdown by a week would have increased the deaths to 102,600”. "

And of course there is not just one single form of lockdown

"How well masking helps with COVID-19 spread is still being researched; however, we do have good data from other viruses that masking can reduce spread and thus reduce new infections."