03 February 2023

Ardern's legacy isn't kindness

It's been over a week, and it's remarkable that Jacinda Ardern has simply disappeared from the politics of a country she exercised almost unprecedented levels of power over, for the previous few years. The (leftwing statist post-modernist identitarian) world has cried out "why", and far too many have come to the conclusion that it's no doubt sexism (in the country that gave her the greatest electoral mandate of any Prime Minister since 1951, and had previously had two female Prime Ministers).

However, Ardern's resignation appears on the face of it to reflect two things:

  • Fatigue from someone who isn't intellectually or emotionally able to handle the time and the stress of the position
  • Fear of an election campaign during which scrutiny will be its highest and the chance of defeat the strongest yet.
She is, after all, an almost accidental Prime Minister. She wasn't expected to become Prime Minister after the 2017 election, as National was so well ahead in the polls, it's just that National had "spent" its coalition/support partners over previous terms, and so angered Winston Peters that he chose to swing left.

Of course in this neo-identitarian political age (a variation on classic chauvinistic identitarianism), Ardern's age and sex were notable as an "achievement", enhanced by her clearly being someone who never seemed to covet the role (which is now born out by her fatigability), made her a darling of international media.  The Anglosphere in particular is dominated by mono-linguistic types who pay little attention to the likes of Sanna Marin, the Finnish (young female) Prime Minister who chose to ignore the wrath of Vladimir Putin and seek Finland's membership of NATO. A position of courage, and not remotely a position the likes of Ardern (or indeed Hipkins) would ever take in foreign affairs, as New Zealand's foreign policy since the Lange age has been to be largely weak against those that challenge Western countries (see, for example, how pathetic Ardern/Mahuta were in response to China's trade sanctions against Australia). 

Ardern was notable for embracing an explicitly sympathetic and emotional image to leadership, and for declaring how kindness in government is a virtue. This is extraordinary from a politician who has led a government that, by and large, has sought to take more of people's money, borrow more from future generations and to direct and centrally manage and control more intensely than any government since the Muldoon era. 

I suppose Ardern will regard the generosity of her government with welfare benefits to be "kindness", which of course is really kindness with other people's money.  That "kindness" certainly will have relieved some poverty, but also contributes towards a dependency on other people's money, and the labour shortage that has emerged since the end of Covid restrictions. Lindsay Mitchell has written eloquently on this noting that the number and proportion of people receiving a main benefit at the end of the last six December quarters is up 22% compared to when Ardern first became Prime Minister.  New Zealand has both a critical skills shortage, a restrictive approach to immigration and is generous to those who don't want to work, but Ardern can't connect the dots.  At no point has this government noted that being too "kind" with other people's money encourages people to be economically idle.

The reality of the "kindness" narrative is no joke to the victims of ramraid attacks, and the growth in crime, because the "kindness" is interpreted as there being an easy ride for perpetrators.  The fact so many of the victims are recent migrants who own businesses is a community that maybe sees less kindness in the rhetoric, particular the notion that the reason some young people drive cars to steal stuff is claimed to be poverty, rather than opportunistic nihilism.

Another group not feeling the kindness includes immigrants who invested time and money into New Zealand and have been told to fuck off back home leave.  The former owners of Tennyson Cafe in Napier, who migrated from France, poured $600,000 into the business, brought their children over and had to meet financial targets for the business to get permanent residency.  The pandemic, of course, got in the way, and they failed to meet the targets.

The family’s first year in Cafe Tennyson and Bistro did not go as well as hoped, but the year ended March 2020 was much better and boded well.  The Debords invested more than $600,000 in the business, and the kids Lisa, 10, and Thibaut, 12, had settled in and were thriving at a local primary school. For the past two years, while other cafes around them have closed and laid off staff, the Debords have battled on.

Immigration NZ said because the didn't meet their targets (regardless of reason) they could not be allowed to remain, local MP and Cabinet Minister Stuart Nash supported them, but of course these were the rules set by the government he is a part of and Ardern led. So imagine a family, relocated halfway across the world, setting up a successful business, contributing financially and personally to a community, being told by an unproductive minion of the burgeoning Ardern state to leave.  Claims that it was an administrative decision is ludicrous in the context of a government with a majority able to change the laws to address such discrepancies.  For someone who gained her mandate due to handling of the pandemic, it is a curious blind spot that Ardern literally couldn't care less about people from overseas who contribute demonstrably to New Zealand, being allowed to stay. It's something that foreign fans of Ardern wouldn't believe, because they think she's the antithesis of "Trump" and everything they hate, when in fact she's led a government highly sceptical of immigration, not least because of a strong streak of Maori caucus antipathy towards immigration (and trade union dislike of people who represent competition for their members - this is the left treating individuals as economic units - something that is often decried).

The legions of people who couldn't get home during the pandemic, whereas various minstrels, thespians, clowns, ball players, politicians and businesspeople were given special access to MIQ, was also the other side of the "kind" government, that granted special privileges to those who ticked the right boxes.  Ardern led a government of "pull" as Eric Crampton wrote about.  Ardern's Government was kind to the "right" kind of people, such as people working in horse racing, international film producers, America's Cup syndicate employees, minstrels performing and businesspeople with stands at the Dubai Expo.  Average New Zealanders don't have that sort of "pull".

Then there are the Afghans who helped New Zealand forces not getting automatic visas to move to NZ after the Taliban took over.  What could be less kind that for people who worked with foreign forces not being granted residency when their psychopathic totalitarian enemy takes over?  However, the Ardern Government's attitude to foreign policy was more about signalling virtue than substance.  Calling for a ban on nuclear weapons is the sort of naive student politics that demeaned Ardern, as was calling climate change her generation's "nuclear-free moment". Then again if she meant New Zealand taking action that would have no impact on a global issue or problem (which is what the nuclear ban achieved) then she might have been right.

A lot of money has been spent by the Ardern Government, yet the performance of public services continues to be woeful, not least because the incentives of prioritising the interests of vocal professional unions are not on consumers of those services.  The DHB model was poor, but centralised healthcare is unlikely to deliver innovation or pressure for efficiencies.  On education, the desire for more centralisation is clear, as diversity in education delivery is an anathema to a government full of sympathisers to teachers' unions.  The Ardern Government doesn't want parents directing schools when it has grown the educational bureaucracy in Wellington so much.

That's been the other effect, the massive growth in the Wellington bureaucracy more generally.  A 38% increase in policy analysts, a 43% increase in managers and 56% increase in information professionals reflects a bloating demand by the Ardern Government for regulatory and policy work, and little of it is about getting the state to do less, but rather to do more.  It's part of her belief system in an activist state, but this philosophy hits the reality that you can't make a lot of things "better" by just throwing more public servants at it to analyse what to do, especially since whole ranges of options are completely ruled out politically. It's telling that the Ardern Government wouldn't even look once at commercialising water, even though it has been somewhat of a success in Auckland (for fresh and waste water only), because it is only interested in options that centralise power.

Then there is whole issue of "co-governance" which means that Iwi are treated as equals in government to central and local government, and given power to choose their own people to sit alongside those chosen by election (who are ALSO chosen in part by those selecting Iwi representatives).  It also means abolishing one-person one-vote, as nearly happened in Rotorua.  The fact the Ardern Government is so willing to consider abolishing a core tenet of liberal democracy to placate Maori nationalists is far from kind. Finally Ardern's concern about freedom of speech being a weapon and wanting to suppress disinformation presents an overly confident view of the state benignly suppressing what is "bad", without suppressing what is good or even useful.  It is understandable that she is keen to see less rhetoric that supports the likes of the Christchurch shooter or those claiming conspiracies for all sorts of issues, but her inability to see the importance of freedom of speech created plenty of justifiable criticism.  Her philosophy feeds into the rhetoric of dictators from China to Russia to Nigeria to Venezuela, who simply call criticism "disinformation". 

The narrative now being conveniently trotted out about Ardern is the abuse she receives from critics, and certainly no one can justify threats of violence against her and her family.  Yet her main opponent in 2020 was Judith Collins, and abuse of her is largely brushed to one side, and of course many of those who decry abuse of Ardern are more than happy to tolerate abuse of male politicians as Graham Adams wrote in The Platform.  I'm old enough to remember the constant references to Robert Muldoon as "piggy", and the idea that somehow people shouldn't be able to throw pejoratives at women in power any less than men is rather chilling.  People have the right to call their leaders names and be rude about them, even if it is puerile and they don't like it, what they don't have the right to do is to threaten them. Ardern undoubtedly gets some nasty threats, and different ones from men because she is a woman, but it's intellectually lazy polemics to claim that the country that granted Ardern a remarkable mandate in 2020 is also dripping misogynistic hatred of women in power (despite having also granting a mandate for Helen Clark to govern for nine years), when hatred of men in power is just brushed over as part of the game.

It's good for Ardern to give up, nobody should be in the job if they find it too difficult, but just over a week on, and it is clear that Hipkins has just tweaked the dials, and done little other than give the impression he's a bit less woke-authoritarian, and he's more than willing to extend unfunded tax cuts (fuel tax/RUC discount) and say he's "reviewing" policies that Ardern and her whole government were dead keen on hanging their hats on.

What the polls suggest is that the politics of "kindness" were seen by enough of the public to be empty of substance, but it also suggests that Christopher Luxon has a fair way to convince people that his alternative is one of substance.

A key question will be whether a National-led government is actually going to embark on the sort of reforms needed to turn back the tide on the growing centralising state, and incentivise individual responsibility, entrepreneurship and freedom of choice,

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