Jacinda’s enduring legacy

What will be the most enduring legacy of PM, Jacinda Ardern? Will it be the fact that she and her party won in a landslide in this year’s election? Well yes, that’s now history. The fact that she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize? Close – it indicates the regard held for her internationally.

But none of this goes to the core of what she stands for. And a large part of the answer to that lies in two little words she uttered when we first entered our first lockdown: ‘Be kind’ she said.

That rare sentiment startled some because in our fractious political arena we were in danger of becoming more divided than we had before. So those two words stood singularly apart from the prevailing Market ideology which promoted greed, individualism and an open disregard for the common good.

The Market went from being an academic abstract to a living thing, personified, allowed to feel highs and hurts and needed protection from, well us. We, the trickle-down people, watched as a soulless philosophy devoid of imagination, commodified or privatised what they could. Homelessness ballooned and we saw beggars on our streets. State houses were sold by the then New Right represented by National just when the New Poor needed them most. And so it went, until something unexpected happened: a pandemic.

Suddenly the Market found itself pushed aside by the pressing need for medical and scientific analysis and political action. Labour ‘went early and went hard’ said Ardern repeatedly. We became an international story with praise heaped upon Ardern and her actions.

In the time of Covid, wannabe autocrats like American President, his counterpart Putin and others rode high on a tide of populism. It seemed as if the world was happily swapping democracy for authoritarian regimes, but Covid dealt in death – 1.15 million world-wide to date.

In the UK Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic led to plunging popularity. In the USA, that most disunited of states, President Trump’s dismissal of Covid and later, his secret manipulation of it may well have led to his abrupt but welcome departure from the White House.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Ditto politics. In the UK newspapers like the Independent referred to Ardern and wondered whether her social values, honesty and empathy could help influence new approaches to politics.

For Ardern, that’s another compliment, but the real hard work for her remains in dealing with issues like homelessness, child poverty – and Covid. Kindness may well help play a part, while much of the world roils and revolts against systems which by design, create inequality.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.