A friend in the States asked what I thought of the PM’s response to the outbreak. I thought about it for a while and came up with this:
I’m from Utah originally, worked public health in California and Alaska before moving to New Zealand a decade back. I did my PhD on infectious diseases and have worked clinically in Ebola camps, with Zika, the recent measles outbreak, etc. I understand both the US and NZ systems pretty well. Sorry for the CV, just on social media people usually start out by attacking credentials. Basically, I know disease and international relations in both NZ and DC, if almost nothing else.
I didn’t vote for our Prime Minister. She won about 37% of votes and governs in a semi-coalition with a populist party and the Greens. Weird mix. But she has done very, very well. There are good things she has done, reacting to the mosque mass shooting with empathy and by wearing a head covering, making herself available in public settings and on occasional social media, staying engaged with the population here.
More important is what she hasn’t done:
She hasn’t insulted or belittled anyone
She hasn’t mocked anyone
She hasn’t implied her opponents are fools or criminals
She hasn’t made money out of her role (though I’m sure she’ll never be poor now)
She has never praised herself
She has never claimed to know things she didn’t
She hasn’t lied, so far as I can tell
She hasn’t insisted on utter loyalty
She hasn’t made subservience more important than talent in filling roles
She hasn’t insisted on her own infallibility
She hasn’t given many people here, even her opponents, reason to claim that she is anything but genuine and well-meaning as well as intelligent and capable. They disagree with her, but they are her opponents, not her enemies.
She has deferred to experts, recognised her own limitations, and treated people wherever possible with respect.
Because of this, despite the country being evenly divided politically, when the pandemic approached she was able to consult our experts and take a course of action which has very nearly eliminated the disease in this country. This has been extraordinarily difficult. New Zealand is on average poorer than the US or Australia, we depend highly on tourism and exports, and large numbers of our citizens are overseas, making the logistics of return daunting. But because she is trusted even by many who don’t agree with her, and because of the genuine concern and respect she has shown people while in office, an amazing thing (to an American) occurred.
When an emergency struck, the people trusted her to lead.
We know the economy is going to be devastated. New Zealand’s economy will take longer to heal than the US and has nowhere near the reserves. We know this period of uncertainty may take months or years. We know mistakes have been and will made by our government. But we trust that the government is listening to the best minds they can find, and we trust that our leader has our best interests at heart. Because of this, the country has come together and agreed to ride this out.
No country on the globe is going to get this completely right. There are just too many unknowns. But a leader brings people together. If you thrive on division and breakdown you are not a leader, you are either a scavenger or a parasite.
I am not a natural Labour voter. My 82 year old neighbour sure as hell isn’t. But we agree that Jacinda Ardern is a good person and a capable leader working incredibly hard in an absolute shit situation.
Apparently most of the country agrees as well.