Guy Birchall, British journalist covering current affairs, politics and free speech issues. Recently published in The Sun and Spiked Online. Follow him on Twitter @guybirchall
New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern has shut the nation’s borders, interred the few still allowed to enter and now postponed the election for a month – but it’s all okay because she’s the ‘right kind of leader’.
Ardern has postponed the elections in New Zealand for a month so the country can deal with a new spike in Covid-19 cases. The Kiwi PM has become something of a darling of liberal outlets around the world who larrup praise on her progressive outlook, being a female world leader and, most recently, the way she has dealt with the pandemic.
New Zealand has so far only had 22 deaths related to Covid-19, which is obviously all down to Ms Ardern and nothing to do with the fact that New Zealand is sparsely populated, over a thousand miles away from any other country and has five times as many sheep as people.
Nevertheless, due to her impeccable woke credentials Jacinda’s every action has been lauded by the Western liberal press. Her government’s pursuit of a “well-being budget” rather than actual economic growth was hailed as a “progressive beacon in a populist world,” she was lauded for bringing her baby with her to the UN General Assembly for no obvious reason whatsoever, and for saying all the right things about racism and the failure of capitalism.
For much of the West’s liberal media Saint Jacinda of Wellington can do no wrong, which is why now she has delayed New Zealand’s election for a month, from September 19 to October 17, it is obviously a righteous, splendid thing for her to do. According to the Guardian “By delaying the New Zealand election Jacinda Ardern appears magnanimous and conciliatory.” She is putting the health of the people first, rather than cynically chasing her own political ambitions. She is accepting that free and fair elections cannot take place if “longstanding electoral activities as door-knocking, public meetings, and generally having face-to-face contact” are suppressed. Who could argue that democracy was more important than dealing with a disease currently affecting 78 people in the country, just five of which require hospital treatment? People’s lives are at risk for God’s sake.
However, those of us with a memory longer than a month, may recall a very different reaction when another world leader suggested an upcoming election might need to be postponed. This leader is head of a much larger country, with a far greater number of Covid-19 cases and deaths, the most in the world according to some metrics, but he is of course Donald Trump, so everything he does is bad.
The same publications that are praising Ms Ardern for her selflessness in delaying her election, dedicated copious column inches to blasting Donald Trump. Both the Atlantic and the Guardian angrily pointed out that the president didn’t have the power to delay an election, adding that him raising the prospect was just a cynical ploy to “delegitimize” the vote.
To my mind neither election should be postponed, elections are a cornerstone of democracy and should not be put off if at all possible. But for there to be such a blatant double standard attributed to the motives of two incumbents is galling to say the least. Rarely has the “it’s okay for me and but not for thee” attitude of the liberal press been more obvious than in this instance. Does anyone believe for one minute that they would be praising Jacinda Ardern for delaying polling day if she weren’t woker than a Portland knitting circle?
It also makes no sense if you follow their logic about who has dealt with the pandemic better. If Jacinda Ardern has done such a great job of coping with the outbreak of coronavirus, then surely Kiwis should be able to head to the polls without any trouble next month. By the same token, if Donald Trump has been so woeful in coping with Covid-19 surely it makes more sense to delay the election in the United States as people cannot cast their votes in a safe manner?
Perhaps even more ludicrous than that is the fact that when Trump banned travel from China in January in an effort to combat Covid-19 he was roundly condemned as a xenophobic racist. But Trump’s travel ban policy even now looks positively porous compared to the restrictions Ardern has brought in. New Zealand’s borders are shut to virtually all travelers, and all those that are allowed in have to quarantine in a government approved facility for at least 14 days. On top of that, some will even have to pay several thousand dollars for the privilege of their internment under guidelines brought in by Ardern in July.
Can anyone imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth that we would be subjected to if Donald Trump or even someone as wet as Boris Johnson were to bring in measures like that? They would be compared to the worst dictators in history, not getting hagiographies written about them for their birthdays in the Independent.
The new rules now seem clear, if you are ‘liberal’ you can shut your borders, delay elections and intern people against their will all in the name of safety and you will be praised as a conscientious and benevolent leader. If you do exactly the same thing as a right-winger you are a racist tyrant. The hypocrisy should be astounding, but self-awareness in mainstream newsrooms seems to vanish even quicker than civil liberties in Auckland these days.