Lighting Up The International Stage: New Zealand's young, pregnant prime minister has won the hearts of the French, German and Commonwealth leadership. Her easy familiarity and great personal warmth has proved to be as captivating as it was refreshing. Even the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Paula Bennett, was moved to describe Jacinda Ardern as "beautiful".
IT’S IMPOSSIBLE for fair-minded Kiwis to be anything other than immensely proud of their prime minister. Watching Jacinda Ardern interact with the likes of Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau, one is repeatedly struck by her easy familiarity and personal warmth. That she has captivated these leaders is obvious to all but her most hardened opponents.
According the latest One News/Colmar-Brunton opinion poll, the Labour-NZF-Green government continues to be the clear choice of a comfortable majority of the New Zealand electorate. The same survey puts Jacinda an embarrassing 27 points ahead of the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, in the preferred prime minister stakes. There is a strong sense of purpose about this government which is keeping the electorate on-side. Its supporters should be feeling confident and relaxed about the future.
So why aren’t they?
At the core of their uneasiness is a sense that Jacinda’s government is seen by an alarmingly large number of New Zealanders as something akin to the sort of puppet regime an occupying army might impose on a conquered population. They look at Jacinda and her ministers through narrowed eyes – suspicious of everything they do.
Even when the measures this government announces are for the benefit of themselves and their families – like the winter energy subsidies soon to take the sting out of cost of keeping their houses warm – there’s a sullen refusal to be impressed. As if the payment was nothing more than a bribe.
This deep-seated cynicism towards Jacinda’s government has its origin in New Zealand’s very own Dolchstoßlegenden. (Stab-in-the-back myth) Just as the German Right refused to believe that Germany’s armies had been beaten decisively in World War I: preferring instead to believe that they had been betrayed by treacherous left-wing politicians and shadowy Jewish influencers in the rear; the New Zealand Right is firmly convinced that the National Party was kept out of power by the self-interested (and probably unconstitutional) machinations of Winston Peters.
That a government which does not include the party receiving the largest number of votes can nevertheless be accepted as legitimate by the “liberal elites” is, for the Right, a mystery reeking of treason.
The position of Jacinda’s government is not made any easier by elements within the news media who act as if the Right’s suspicion and resentment is, in some unexplained way, justified. In spite of the fact that the Labour-NZF-Green government has been in office barely six months, and ignoring the almost daily revelations of the previous government’s extraordinary derelictions and mismanagement, they lash Jacinda’s ministers as if they alone are responsible for the fact that the country’s infrastructure is, quite literally, rotting away.
These alarming displays of the media’s mendacity have lately acquired a much more sinister tone. It’s as if every editorial office in the country has received a memo from somewhere deep inside the Five Eyes’ national security apparatus that “Russophobia” is the order of the day; and that, for failing to follow its orders with sufficient enthusiasm the Ardern Government must be brought to heel by unrelenting media pressure.
We are thus treated to the spectacle of Newstalk-ZB’s Mike Hosking taking Jacinda to task for putting her faith in diplomacy and the UN Charter – as if the doctrine of “Might Makes Right” has not, over the course of the last 104 years, turned the world into a charnel house and made possible the worst crimes in human history.
It was the American journalist, Upton Sinclair, who remarked that “it is very difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it”. The near unanimity now prevailing in the New Zealand news media that the West must “stand up to Russia”, coupled with its refusal to subject the claims of the United States, the United Kingdom and France to even a modicum of critical interrogation, speaks to a level of hysteria which, in the past, has been the prelude to war.
This is the bellicose atmosphere in which Jacinda, with all her openness and warmth, has been determined to represent her country’s long-standing allegiance to the UN Charter and her own transparent preference for a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis. Her courage and honesty are contagious: as may plainly be observed in her colleague Megan Woods’ steely determination to bring the EQC into line; and in Andrew Little’s fulfilment of Labour’s promise to open the Pike River drift.
It is the illumination which this government’s actions continue to generate which explains the rising level of hostility to its policies. For nearly ten years this country was kept in the dark. In that darkness, tragedy and failure could be kept hidden: and what too many eyes refused to see, too many hearts declined to grieve over. But now a majority of New Zealanders’ eyes are open, and they can see the decay, destruction and delay that are John Key’s and Bill English’s true legacy. For the 44.5 percent of the nation who voted for National, the shame of its legacy is hard to bear. Much easier, is to translate that shame into hatred for the people who forced them to feel it.
In a country where darkness and deceit allowed the lucky to grow fat undetected, while others less fortunate suffered unseen, a government determined to bring light and uncover truth will always, by some, be regarded as the puppet regime of an occupying army.
The question facing New Zealanders now is: “Do you intend to fight that army – or join it?”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 20 April 2018.