JACINDA ARDERN KNOWS what she’s doing. Never mind all the “Ardern is faltering” wishful thinking on display from the Right. Ignore all the carping of the journalists, commentators, posters and tweeters. New Zealand is still, overwhelmingly, with the Prime Minister.
Would she be pushing back so hard against the claims of the KFC worker if she didn’t know that a very large chunk of the country wasn’t saying: “Give her a smack from me while you’re at it, Jacinda!”?
You only have to register the change in the Prime Minister’s tone between Saturday night and Monday afternoon. In the course of just 72 hours it was made very clear to Jacinda that “kindness” just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Kiwis were pissed-off – really pissed-off – and they expected the country’s leader to acknowledge and endorse their rage.
Jacinda received their message loud and clear. At her post-Cabinet media conference on Monday, the Prime Minister demonstrated conclusively that she could be cruel as well as kind. Those revealed to have breached the self-isolation protocols felt the full force of Jacinda’s displeasure – and the nation lapped it up.
Not the journalists in the Press Gallery, of course, and certainly not the keyboard warriors on Twitter and Facebook. They knew too much about the messaging shemozzle that had caused the young KFC worker to believe that she was allowed to go to work. Clearly, there had been a major communications failure between the Ministry of Health’s frontline staff and decision-makers all the way up the chain-of-command. Prime Ministers are only as well-informed as the advice they receive, and, in the case of the KFC worker, at least, the advice she received was bad.
Not that it matters. What they’d heard from them during the first Lockdown, left most New Zealanders with a very sour opinion of journalists. Or, should that be – an opinion even sourer than usual? As for Twitter: well, the opinions and judgements available on Twitter matter tremendously to the people who tweet them, and the atypical New Zealanders who read them. Neither of these groups is very large, however: certainly not large enough to make the Government do anything it has already set its face against. That the journos and the Twitterati all knew there had been a serious communications balls-up didn’t really count.
Why? because New Zealanders weren’t remotely interested in the minutiae of who said what to whom and when. What they were saying to themselves was something along the lines of:
“ Jesus! What rock was this girl living under that she didn’t know Covid was loose in her community, and, because Covid was loose in her community, she should stay the fuck at home? All her friends at Papatoetoe High School were being tested and told to self-isolate. It was all over the news. How could she not get it?”
And when it came to the guy who got tested and then went to the gym? Well, you can just hear Middle New Zealand’s explosion of rage, can’t you?
“For fuck’s sake! Who the hell could be that bloody selfish? Surely there’s got to be some sort of punishment for rule-breaking on this sort of scale? Come on Jacinda – you can’t be kind to pricks like that!”
These are the messages that Jacinda was giving heed to – not the whining of the Twitterati. The huge surge of outrage that followed the public’s discovery of the reasons why they were being ordered back into Covid-19 Alert Levels 2 and 3 was not something any sensible politician could ignore – and Jacinda didn’t.
There will, of course, be many (but not that many) who will seize upon the circumstances surrounding the latest Lockdown and spin them into a cloak of shame for the Prime Minister and her government. They will do this because they simply cannot believe that anybody is any longer “fooled” by Queen Jacinda the Kind; because they fail completely to comprehend that people who think like them represent an insignificant minority of the population; because they just can’t fathom why their advice on how to handle the Covid-19 Pandemic has been routinely ignored for so long.
For nearly 40 years these characters have grown accustomed to the opinions and interests of the majority being treated with something pretty close to contempt. Little people were expected to do as they were told, and to accept that the big people telling them would always know much better than they ever could what was good for them. These elitists found it hard enough to endure the nearly-nine-year reign of John Key – who displayed an altogether unhealthy regard for public opinion. Under Jacinda, however, everything has gone from bad to worse. She actually seems to care – really care – what little people think. It’s simply outrageous!
What the elitists want is for New Zealanders to “learn to live with the virus”. In their view, all this “yo-yoing” in and out of Lockdown is wrecking the economy. Pursuing an “elimination strategy” is, therefore, unsustainable in the long term. The country just has to harden-up and wait for the steady roll-out of the vaccine to deliver the “herd immunity” required to set the world free. As far as they’re concerned, all this is self-evident. The Government must see it – and act accordingly.
Except that what the “little people” want looks nothing like the “big people’s” preferred strategy. Far from believing that things should be loosened-up, most New Zealanders favour an across-the-board tightening of the whole anti-Covid apparatus. The Elimination Strategy, so derided by the elites, has served them, and their country, amazingly well. Just how well is made clear to them every time they hear, see, or read about what’s happening in the USA, the UK, and just about everywhere else on the planet. What they want is to be kept safe: to see the borders made so tight that the “tricky” Covid virus is permanently kept at bay. Yes, they feel sorry for the tourism and hospitality industries, but not sorry enough to risk the virus running amok because Jacinda and her government stopped listening to “us” and started paying heed to “them”.
Most of all they want the Team of Five Million to stay solid: to play by the rules; and to make sure that those who flout the rules pay dearly for their lack of solidarity. While kindness can be shown to work, they’ll be kind. But, the moment kindness stops working, the world will be amazed at how cruel ordinary New Zealanders can be. And how cruel Jacinda can be – in their name.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 4 March 2021.