The two Jacinda’s and hoping for a radicalism befitting our age

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When historic Covid-19 ‘Level Four’ containment measures were lifted in New Zealand and we entered Level Three with more freedom of movement, and takeaways – the apex of modern culture, there were queues for McDonalds, KFC and takeaway coffee. A vegetarian friend of mine bought bacon. I couldn’t wait to swim. Our priorities were basic, somewhat inexplicable, and surprising parts of our identities were exposed.

Elsewhere Covid-19 exposed other identities – the conspiracy theorists and science deniers on the one hand, and the community builders, the latent walkers and cyclists, the emergent food sharing networks and friendships as neighbourhoods became filled with people who usually just sleep in the area before leaving for another suburb for work, school and sports.

The home baking and gardening renaissance took us back generations. Places in the South Island that had been heaving with visitors B.C -Before Coronavirus, such as Punakaiki and Tekapo, were as quiet as they were in the 1990s, before we sold New Zealand to the world. Riding my bike in times of Coronavirus took me back to the 1990s too – these are the same quiet country roads I pedaled as a kid. Then, as now, what few drivers there, were fast and loose.

As we get closer to emerging from lockdown, people are getting restless. My neighbours have been partying like it’s 1999 too. In the day they build new vege beds, and by night they wash down the dust. Come morning they collect all their empties and load them into their recycling bin, and it echoes down the valley like church bells calling a reckoning. I’m noticing Sunday drivers escaping local confines and heading out here to the west – including the lip-sticked ladies who called to cows, as they toured along, leaving scented perfume in their wake. Day by day, the sound of the State Highway a few k’s away, increases its hum.

Covid-19 has already given us a new life as usual. Most obviously, our grocery shopping habits have already changed – though the first time I went to the supermarket since lockdown, last week, I was slightly disturbed, and slightly touched by what a simple act of solidarity it was, an unspoken commitment to public health, to stand in a queue to enter.

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I work from home anyway. My husband is out of work, but we know he’s not alone. 30,000 new people registered unemployed here in the last few weeks, though that’s dwarfed by the 20+million registered in the States since April – at 14.7%, it’s the worst level since the Great Depression. There are suggestions that the United Kingdom will have its worst drop in GDP since the 17th Century.

The life’s work for many people is in the balance as they wonder if their businesses will ever be viable again. I wonder how shops with high rents will outlast lockdown. Jobs held for years have been lost, with minimal or no redundancy. Sometimes people have lost their jobs, and their accommodation. Contracts have been cancelled, work hours reduced, plans aborted. But while the sun still shines it feels like we got off lightly here, with the magic mixture of good management and luck. Our deaths from Covid-19 were less than the yearly flu. But I also feel for those now overdue cancer treatments and surgeries, when DHBs say it may take a year to catch up. That’s a year that some people don’t have. The Covid-19 response is destroying the chance of life saving treatments – such as Keytruda for lung cancer patients which, in absence of the drug, is killing prematurely 30 patients a week. The Counties-Manukau DHB already has a deficit from the Whakaari/White Island tragedy, it has leaky and rotten buildings, where apparently effluent runs down the walls. Other DHBs are so underfunded that new mums must use outside portable showers; and cancer treatment is a postcode lottery. Heather Simpson’s inquiry into the health and disability sector found that the structure and funding of our health system needs an overhaul. But that overhaul has been put on hold because of Covid-19. Other important projects and plans have also been put on hold as the response to the pandemic becomes all consuming.

There will be challenges aplenty as the Government seeks to ‘respond, rebuild, and recover’. It’s a big week ahead, as we hear whether we will go to Level Two – a bit less social isolation, a bit more ‘business as usual’. But a new world of social distancing. And then later in the week, we head to the Budget. There are indications that fast tracking ‘shovel ready’ infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy, will reduce some rights to public participation, with enabling legislation and speedy consenting processes through a reformed Resource Management Act. New Zealand First are making it clear they want extractive regional economies to have a smoother ride and higher priority for investment – more mining in conservation stewardship areas to make up for the loss of tourism. Tourism Minister and Deputy Labour Leader (not that you’d know it), Kelvin Davis, seems dangerously out of touch when he’s reported of having the view that we didn’t have too many tourists before Covid-19 and that climate change isn’t a tourism concern.

Personally, I’m looking forward to revisiting the South Island and being welcomed, instead of being treated like I’m a resented source of income, unwelcome but necessary, with my tourism money and my freedom camping- a way of life for me and part of my identity as a New Zealander. Now those communities want me back. I’ll be glad to have space in my own country again.

Political progress usually occurs incrementally. And in New Zealand, from the rule of Helen Clark to today, we’ve been characterised by glacial incrementalism. We’ve been too slow in undoing the changes of the 1980s and 1990s even when we wanted to, and ineffective at addressing the pathologies that resulted from deregulated neo-liberalism – growing homelessness, poverty, the wealth gap, suicide, high imprisonment rates and personal debt. Until the market and labour intervention of Covid-19, we’ve sat almost as far to the right of the political spectrum as ever here. But periods of stasis can be interrupted and provide opportunities for radical change. These are times of  punctuated equilibrium – when usually stable, incremental policy and budget processes are instead characterised by dramatic change.

April 2019 seems a long time ago, when Leader of the House, Labour Minister Chris Hipkins argued for radical incrementalism – small steps, to a transformative goal. The path the Labour Government has taken to deliver on its pre-election promises, has been winding, halting, and has in many ways, failed to deliver. But it has also been interrupted by major crises in which the Prime Minister has excelled. As Barrister Cat McLennan wrote this week, it’s been ‘a tale of two leaders’– ‘Courageous Jacinda’, when catastrophe has allowed compassionate leadership and Jacinda has taken the country with her. And ‘Cautious Jacinda’, when it’s come to delivering on Labour’s initial policy promises and hopes and goals.

At this time of punctuated equilibrium with all eyes on the national ‘rebuild’, and ‘recovery’, the lockdown exit, and the Budget, offer a chance for substance as well as the stardust that is Jacinda’s mètier. As well as accolades for our PM’s leadership on the spot, in the immediate aftermath to the Covid crisis, (and her other achievements), dare we dream that Courageous Jacinda will make the radical, systematic reforms necessary to address modern capitalism’s structural faults, and will take the country with her – and be a model for the world?

Too often Governments are cautious followers, not leaders of the public mood, and organic societal change happens at grass roots and gives the mandate for institutional change. This week, and at the election in September, many of us will look to Jacinda for the radical leadership befitting of her popularity and of our times and age. Because out here in the community, life has already changed, and we hope it will be never the same again.

19 COMMENTS

    • WK
      Or they are stuck home with children! The endless weekend of Pandemic Alert Levels 3&4 doesn’t do much for sleeping in, and any distraction is welcome respite from the endless clamouring for attention. PAL 2 will hopefully come with school reopenings for children of now nonessential nonworkers.

      Though good to read where that; “Two Jacindas”, line came from. I don’t much like it myself, as it’s not that far from calling the PM two-faced! Which may not have been the original intention, but won’t take much effort for bad faith arguers to shift it in that direction.

  1. There have been a lot of positive things from Covid – like the realisation that things were not going well before Covid.

    A bedtime story for COL and the world.

    “Kiwi-born Welsh poet Tomos Roberts (aka Probably Tomfoolery) has captured the imagination of millions of people around the world with his video The Great Realisation.

    The fairytale-esque poem details the grim realities of pre-Covid life, such as pollution and over-consumption, before imagining a brighter future once the pandemic is over.

    Since being posted last week, the video has been viewed more than 30 million times across all platforms, and garnered attention from A-list celebrities including Jake Gyllenhaal, Jennifer Aniston and Drew Barrymore.”

    Coronavirus: Millions find message of hope in Kiwi’s poem
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/well-good/300009226/coronavirus-millions-find-message-of-hope-in-kiwis-poem

  2. …’ A vegetarian friend of mine bought bacon’…??? WTFH???

    Well, I’m glad I’ve got the mind of someone born in the 1860’s instead of a hundred years later, and I do remember great joy at the old codger back in the iconic Mainland cheese days…I loved those ads. Even more as I met old fellas just like that in my twenty- something backpacking days in the Southland :).

    Old fellas like that are absolutely priceless! And in the frigid cold winter West Coast winters they’d welcome me and my girlfriend to their home to share a few Speights and the warmth of their heaters rather than sleeping in the tents…they were in their late 70’s and 80’s and it was all about memories of their children and simple companionship, – wonderful elder chaps! Adorable! Couldn’t do enough for you! It was always sad to move on because that would probably be the last time you’d ever see them alive….

    Mainland Cheese – Tear Open (circa mid 80’s)
    https://youtu.be/yGJOgTS9cBE?t=3

    And this one…

    NZ TV Commercial: Mainland is saving the Penguins
    https://youtu.be/eIHRIk8xTPk?t=4

    Maybe off topic but I’d like to send a shout out to all the elder people in this country for a change!

    We adore you ! 🙂

  3. …’The path the Labour Government has taken to deliver on its pre-election promises, has been winding, halting, and has in many ways, failed to deliver. But it has also been interrupted by major crises in which the Prime Minister has excelled…

    As Barrister Cat McLennan wrote this week, it’s been ‘a tale of two leaders’– ‘Courageous Jacinda’, when catastrophe has allowed compassionate leadership and Jacinda has taken the country with her. And ‘Cautious Jacinda’, when it’s come to delivering on Labour’s initial policy promises and hopes and goals’…

    ———————————-

    And there it is. A great article regarding the empathy and compassion with which this govt has conducted itself. It simply could not do anything less. And there’s no naysayer that can detract from that no matter how hard they try. Unless they are prepared to risk being accused of the benefits of hindsight and churlish petty minor points scoring.

    And yes, these situations are the stuff with which major political decisions are made of, and if that means the neo liberal paradigm is changed because of this pandemic, then so be it. It was never a long term solution or desirable position to be in for the greater society to be in anyway.

    It was always seen as a temporary opportunistic setting for making a fast buck from the get go. It was almost seen as a gift to the impatient, –
    albeit one that was sorely gifted in the first place, rather like grandparents ( society ) who gave to ingrate children to placate them while still living…but that time is past. The ‘grandparents’ ( society ) now expect more responsibility from their offspring,… and are less tolerant of the largess’ demanded and expected of their neo liberal children…

    Now is the time to discipline those spoilt brat and errant neo liberal children, and teach them the real values of family societal values and ethics…

    Good article.

  4. Excellent writing, thanks very much.
    “Dare we dream that Courageous Jacinda will make the radical, systematic reforms necessary to address modern capitalism’s structural faults..?”
    Nothing will change with NZ First as part of the current government. So, after the election, if Labour is able to govern alone, or with just the Greens?
    I wish, I wish, but I’m not holding my breath.
    We need a universal basic income, with a radical overhaul of taxation, a financial transactions tax, capital gains tax and so on.
    I just can’t see it happening, unless they collectively have some kind of epiphany.
    Meantime, the actual, really big problem, climate change, gets kicked further down the road….

  5. Don’t hold your breath Christine.
    Radical leadership is not in Jacinda’s nature at all, I believe. No disrespect, but she simply is not comfortable with anything that involves risk or might embarrass her or could make her unpopular. That’s what it takes to be ‘radical’.
    You can see when she is in the TV1 Crisis Theatre, delivering the well-rehearsed crisis scripts (written for her), that she is totally in her element. But as soon as the debate goes free-style and turns to real tough or uncomfortable issues, she is not the Jacinda you are looking for.
    Small example, if she was courageous and radical, she would have fired her mate David Clark on the spot – “You see NZ, this is what happens when you mess with our lockdown laws, so don’t anybody try!”
    If she was courageous, she would have defended our laws and said: “Remove those illegal road blocks now, or you are going to jail”.
    If she was radical, she would appointed a real cop to the top job, not a govt PR puppet, let’s be real.
    If she was radical, she’d pull the plug in that stupid Inner City Rail link project sucking NZ dry, instead of placating Phil Twyford.
    There is only one Jacinda I believe and that’s not a ‘radical’ leader you are looking for now.
    Wait for a few months and you’ll see it all unravel.

  6. Great Article Christine Rose;
    quote;
    “Day by day, the sound of the State Highway a few k’s away, increases its hum.

    Yes Christine we want radical change alright in our lives today.

    As Truck freight companies increasingly dominate our lives now and have almost destroyed our residential and rural community’s we experience the effects too;

    Because I live both in the Gisborne rural area and Napier’s western suburbs all placed against the truck route known as the ‘HB Expressway’ with ‘2700 truck constant movements each day’ here, as a result we never sleep well, – as many low frequency noise levels you correctly say is “Hum” will often be from truck cause and it cause ‘Hypertension and death’ we are advised.

    Truckee’s don’t care about our health so we need rail to move 50% freight again.

  7. This says it for me and stands extraction and repetition.
    Political progress usually occurs incrementally. And in New Zealand, from the rule of Helen Clark to today, we’ve been characterised by glacial incrementalism.

    We’ve been too slow in undoing the changes of the 1980s and 1990s even when we wanted to, and ineffective at addressing the pathologies that resulted from deregulated neo-liberalism – growing homelessness, poverty, the wealth gap, suicide, high imprisonment rates and personal debt. Until the market and labour intervention of Covid-19, –
    we’ve sat almost as far to the right of the political spectrum as ever here.

    But periods of stasis can be interrupted and provide opportunities for radical change. These are times of – when usually stable, incremental policy and budget processes are instead-
    characterised by dramatic change.

    • GW. So what the fuck does that mean. Does it mean change has to happen, so if the Coalition wants to be re elected They better do something worthwhile. Or does it mean the Coalition won’t be re elected because JA and her dodgy ministers can’t make the hard decisions and will fall by the wayside anyway. I’m not saying National would do any better but National would win by default.

      • Since your post, Labour have announced 3.9 billion health system boost, the biggest in 2 decades. Whilst significant and due to this pandemic, this is a necessity. Given Nationals penchant for underfunding health because there is no profit to be made, I have no doubt National will trivialize this at budget time.
        Given this, that alone should allow Labour to win.by default.

  8. Having two faces is probably a good thing for photo op’s? But I guess not a good look if you were to consider who’s congratulating her and Robo for following through on his unfinished experiment from a couple of decades ago. Sir Roger Douglas.
    His HNZ/Stuff article last week probably scared the shit out of a lot of people who, like me, thought he was dead!

    This generation who have low expectations on delivery and high on wokeyness will probably be happy with the future that theyre about to be burdened with? Massive debt and lots of time on their hands to do indentured volunteerism in society for a few oligarchs who always benefit from Green Wash’n Capitalism.

    Lets hope this global collapse accelerates at a decent rate so that it can all be done and dusted before the decades end.

  9. If there is a real courageous Jacinda then she is learning. This is, after all, the last chance re climate change, 10 years out. This comparatively ridiculously massive recession for 1% max deaths is an ant compared to the elephant of climate change deaths. Just summertime murders when there is nothing else going on. The laughable psychology of the humans.

    I respect fully Chomsky and Hedges. And no one in NZ. But truth makes you very thin. Which is to say, I despise the ’84 elite. Backward and forward.

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