IT WAS ONLY a matter of time before the Let-Covid-Rip lobby cottoned-on to the political usefulness of the Freedom Convoy.
Throughout the two years of the Covid-19 pandemic the Government’s policies have come under fire from two very different positions.
The first to draw a bead on the Government’s efforts to protect New Zealanders from the Coronavirus were the business interests most directly affected by the closure of the border and lockdowns.
The Education Industry began squealing almost immediately. Understandably, I suppose, since its business model was predicated on a constant inward flow of full fee-paying overseas students.
Close behind them, and for very similar reasons, was the Tourism Industry. It had benefited hugely from the “hyper-tourism” of the previous ten years. Fuelled by super-cheap airfares, the ever-increasing inflow of foreign visitors had made tourism one of this country’s biggest earners of overseas funds.
Hot on the heels of education and tourism came the hospitality and retail sectors. Without overseas students and tourists, and with their domestic patrons and customers locked down inside their homes, the ongoing viability of many businesses operating in these sectors looked increasingly doubtful.
Nor should we forget the agricultural sector. Many New Zealanders were surprised by their country’s biggest earner’s hitherto unnoticed dependence on foreign workers to keep its farms, orchards and vineyards operating efficiently.
Put all these sectors together, and what you get is a powerful combination of interests constantly in the Government’s ear to open the borders and lift the lockdowns.
Similar lobbies sprang up more-or-less overnight in the UK, the USA and Europe. Their arguments in favour of letting the virus rip in order to build up “herd immunity”, not to mention their claims that the threat of the Coronavirus was being over-hyped, spread swiftly around the world.
Remember the arguments advanced by the promoters of our own “Plan B”?
The second firing position was set up in response to the development and roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines. What had been expected to take years, was achieved in just a few months. Inevitably, given the already deeply entrenched communities of anti-vaccination sentiment here and around the world, shrill voices were soon declaring their absolute refusal to be injected with the new vaccines.
What the Let-Covid-Rip lobbyists hadn’t counted on, however, was the extraordinary success of Jacinda Ardern’s efforts to keep New Zealanders safe from Covid-19. With the overwhelming majority of citizens behind her, and results that spoke for themselves, the Prime Minister felt able to over-rule the business interests which, in so many other countries, had successfully bullied their politicians into opening up too early.
Ardern’s spectacular victory at the polls in 2020 offered further incentive for the Covid-impacted sectors to get along by going along.
For the anti-vaxxers, however, going along wasn’t an option. With the new Delta variant of Covid-19 making 90 percent-plus vaccination rates essential, the Government was required to introduce “No Jab, No Job” vaccination mandates and issue vaccination passes.
For the vaccine hesitant these measures were enough. For the hardcore vaccine resisters, however, the same irrationality which had driven them to refuse inoculation in the first instance, now drove them down social media rabbit-holes and into the arms of an irrationality that was much bigger and more malign.
Just how tightly that irrationality now grips them has been on display in Parliament Grounds for more than a week.
Initially, the Let-Covid-Rip apologists saw only what the rest of the country saw in the “Freedom Convoy” and its illegal encampment – nuts. Like most of us, they assumed the Police would move swiftly to reclaim the streets of Wellington from the protesters’ vehicles, and Parliament Grounds from its inchoate community of conspiracy theorists.
When that didn’t happen, and the public condemned the Government’s evident ineffectuality. When the absurdist interventions of Speaker Mallard caused people to wonder whether there were any adults at all left in the Government’s room. That was the moment when it began to dawn on the Let-Covid-Rip lobby that the longer this folly went on, the weaker Ardern’s Government would become.
Suddenly, a motley crew of lumpenproletarians were being presented as ordinary, decent working-class battlers. Suddenly, their frothing irrationality and anti-social demands were being presented as reasonable propositions – worthy of serious discussion.
Caught in their enemies’ deadly crossfire, our embattled Government turns in desperation towards the Police.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 February 2022.