2020 will be remembered as Ardern’s year – but things will get harder

As featured in Edition 37, available here.


By JAMES BALDWIN

New Zealand is often recognised as being a popular expat destination, having a breath-taking landscape and having more sheep than people. But, this year, the country has taken centre-stage for another reason: their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister, has to take full credibility for her rational and effective approach, which saved countless lives. The strategy has also achieved the ambitious goal that one could only seemingly dream of; the near elimination of coronavirus.


Their adoption of a Zero-Covid strategy was an idea which aimed to rid the country of the virus from the off, as opposed to just limiting its spread as most countries decided to do in the hope of keeping the economy moving. In an interview with the Press Association, Ms. Ardern suggested that the original goal of flattening the curve “wasn’t sufficient” for the country, leading to the ambition – fuelled in part by fear – of elimination.


They did this by establishing a four-tier alert system, in place from the beginning – as opposed to the flitting of the system so many of us have grown all too accustomed to here – which described what phase of restrictions the country would be put in. Ms. Ardern and her Cabinet acted quickly, placing New Zealanders under Tier 4 restrictions on 25th March, when 50 cases were recorded. In comparison, Boris Johnson placed the UK under lockdown on 23rd March, when 967 cases were recorded (in both countries, the actual cases were a lot higher). Additionally, the imposition of a travel ban was undoubtedly beneficial – whilst other countries continued to import Covid, New Zealand did not, quelling its spread. Some government modelling suggests the country could be partially closed as far off as 2022, a small price to pay. The fast-moving response has given New Zealand their vast freedoms they enjoy today whilst the rest of the world looks on in envy.


Ms. Ardern’s strategy greatly influenced a landslide election win in October. Her ruling Labour Party won a second three-year term, this time with a majority; the first time a party has won in this way since New Zealand brought in proportional representation in 1996. Labour won 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament. For the past three years, Labour have had to rule with New Zealand First (NZF), who limited the agenda of Ms. Ardern, but with NZF wiped out from Parliament altogether, they can now look at the possibility of a much more productive three years.


For many, the Prime Minister is the reason behind Labour’s win. During her premiership, she has united Kiwis, pulling them together in the face of tragedy – remarkably so, in the face of the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand history in 2019, and furthermore following the onset of the pandemic – referencing the “team of 5 million” (that is, everyone in the country). Labour only released their manifesto four days before the vote and prior to Ms. Ardern’s Covid-19 response, they were on course to lose the election as many policies promised in 2017 have failed to surface. Ms. Ardern’s recent charisma undoubtedly helped voters elect her and her party once more.


But what is next? Labour now have a mandate to govern alone and make change without having to try and win over other parties. In 2017, Ms. Ardern came into office promising a reduction in child poverty, an end to homelessness and the building of cheap homes. Now, she will try once more to achieve these goals. Their 2020 manifesto also commits to investing in critical infrastructure and creating more jobs, as well as providing loans to small businesses.


Left-wing voters will be expecting Ms. Ardern to be radical in tackling poverty and inequality but, following an election win which saw Labour win traditional National Party votes, she is unlikely to be as progressive as they may hope. Indeed, she promises to govern “for every New Zealander”. Ms. Ardern has scrapped plans for both a wealth and capital gains tax and will only raise income tax on the top 2% of earners.This does present problems, providing no substantial way out of the economic woes faced by the pandemic, and will fail to please everyone. 2020 will shine brightly on the legacy of Ms. Ardern and be remembered as her year, amongst numerous other things. But things may not remain this joyous for her.


Photo source - Flickr (Nevada Halbert)

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