Dr Liz Gordon: Some are NOT in the team


The ‘team of five million’ is an important concept for getting Aotearoa through the pandemic. It implies that we are all in this together, and together we can fix it.  The team approach is a strong statement of both political leadership and social cohesion.

We have seen what has happened in other countries when the political leadership has failed to articulate a clear approach that prioritises the wellbeing of the people over competing aims.  Donald Trump’s complete failure of leadership led to a situation where many more people died than would otherwise have been necessary.  It was recently calculated that the Covid pandemic knocked a whole year off the life expectancy of Americans in 2020. There are still 2-3,000 deaths from Covid each day in the States.

Bolsonaro In Brazil has overseen the deaths of a quarter of a million of his compatriots from the disease, all the time denying its existence. The virus still rages there, with around 1,500 deaths per day.

New Zealand’s approach has been widely praised internationally, and rightly so. Yet our team of five million is by no means a cohesive whole. We see the gaps everywhere. Last week, the site of the first vaccines being delivered to border workers in Aotearoa was picketed by a group of about 100 people. As well as anti-vaxxers, there are Covid deniers, the racist and Islamophobic right, Incels, and a range of other movement.  Paul Spoonley, who studies far right groups in New Zealand for years, noted this week that the internet was influencing a “small but growing” group in the community.

And such a story it tells.  These non-team players have been programmed on a different channel to the rest of us.  They have been taught that the virus does not exist but is merely an establishment tool to reduce our human freedoms.  The virus will kill our babies and contains a microchip to control us.  Women are out to subjugate men, Islam people to replace white people, Jewish people to take everything we have, various international organisations to put their own agendas in place and oh yes, left wing people are running paedophile rings.

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Most of these conspiracy theories do not originate from Aotearoa but this does not make them less real for their believers.  And they have their local slants, humans being so readily inventive.  Siouxsie Wiles, communicator extraordinaire (and, I hope, awarded New Zealander of the Year next month) is loved by many for her fantastic work but has also spoken of the death threats she has received.  And one death threat trumps quite a lot of accolades. Same for Jacinda Ardern, who is subject to significant hate speech.

We cannot pretend these people do not matter.  Many are programmed to fight for what they believe in, and that it is their very human freedoms that are at risk. Nobody wants to be slaves.  We must not forget that the Mosque shootings were carried out by a lone individual. We can expect more social harm over time, even if it is a simple refusal to have the vaccine.

None of us know the world exactly as it is.  We all see it through the lens of our preconceptions, beliefs and knowledge forms.  And external forces such as the media and communications, of course.  These radicalised groups hold some beliefs but can take on others.  As Chris Trotter points out, they have no clear leadership and direction in Aotearoa at present.  Come the leader, come the day, this growing group is potentially an army for some integrated purpose, yet to be unfolded.  And there, as Hamlet is wont to say, is the rub.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. Destiny Church is one of those groups pushing it’s anti vax message to the uneducated masses that turn to it for their salvation.It so easily could be a message for good but has decd ed there is more power in being anti and taking part in hate speech to his misguided flock.

  2. Never was a team of 5 million going into this pandemic. Not when there is raging inequality, divisive identity politics, and bad behaviour from MPs both incumbent and in opposition. Some real issues that these people could be protesting about rather than some pie in the sky conspiracies like 5g spreading covid. Give me a break.

  3. The Team of 5 Million concept died a few weeks after it was invented. I had no idea that the idiocy of politicians over the past year, and the app-based mindset of people around me, would push me to think that it would’ve been better to have had National “in control”, to have opened the borders, and let rip. Not from an economic point of view, fuck that, I mean for the good of the collective psyche. Somehow we’ve managed to dodge a bullet that would’ve forced us to refind our humanity, in favour of thinking everything can be solved by an iphone app. A dose of reality would shut down conspiracies, too. On the weekend the newspaper claimed covid in NZ was beaten. I was in a place I don’t usually go and six women turned up in two groups, blocked the entry while they scanned the app, then proceeded to loudly welcome, hug and kiss each other. Often I’ll be in the supermarket and see some old person bumbling along with a mask on, obviously part of a high risk demographic, while everyone else carried on life as usual, and I think, would I want that person to die unnecessarily? A member of my extended overseas family recently died from covid. One day doing ok, two days later, dead. It is real, but every reflection of it here is mind twistingly unreal and disorienting. Even the MOH went from factual science based explanations, sometimes a month after an event just to be sure they got it right, to hastily misleading explanations on waste water testing. Maybe it just doesn’t matter anymore. Are the papers right, is covid beaten? My brain can no longer reconcile the inconsistencies, so joining teams is out. Neo Liberalism precludes teams built around society. Neo Liberalism says society doesn’t exist. I’m not waiting for a leader.

  4. Haha…. team of 2 million genuine battlers and 3 million protected Judas’s who hate anyone poorer than them and want to trap them in poverty and rental exploitation forever. Its Haves vs Have-nots and unfortunately Jacinda and her team are well and truly entrenched with the Haves. NZ is a horrible place these days thanks to Lib/Lab/Nat sell outs.

    • This. New Zealand is a class-divided society – by income and wealth. The ‘essential’ workers during Covid are the least paid. There’s a housing boom on the back of these workers who have to rent. A $565/ wk rent in the higher markets (where I live) is an enormous percentage of a barely-above-living-wage worker, esp with student loan deductions

      • The terrible wages are sucking away at our time and lives. The rent is hoovering up what we have to spend on living. Food and power are quite expensive. It’s hard to find savings for a deposit in this environment. And harder, by degrees, if you’re a singe income earner.

  5. Classic example of Covid hysteria and (for those of an analytical bent) the well-worn technique of yoking the normal death rate to the current scary monster.
    “Bolsonaro In Brazil has overseen the deaths of a quarter of a million of his compatriots”
    In 2020, death rate for Brazil was 6.6 per 1,000 people. Death rate of Brazil fell gradually from 9.9 per 1,000 people in 1971 to 6.6 per 1,000 people in 2020.

  6. Oh come on there are enough left wing conspiracy theories as well. Russia Gate, believing that Syria gassed their own people, the twin towers building 5, Russian hack bots, the USA is not an Empire, liberalism is helping people, feminists are gay hating Nazis, the list goes on.

    The whole “left wing people are running paedophile rings” claim is a utterly sick projection – with people like Ron Brierley https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/124151390/sir-ron-brierley-now-facing-17-charges-of-having-child-abuse-material

    But I agree, we need too actually start locking up people who issue death threats. The common thread is it is predominantly against women, it needs to be taken seriously. And it needs to stop.

  7. ‘ People who believe in absurdities will commit atrocities'( Voltaire).
    In Voltaire’s age he recognised that masses of people believed in absurdities because of ignorance( witches caused disease, mental illness = possession by demons, Jews use the blood of Christian children) and education of the masses was the solution.
    As an ex-history and Geography teacher it is my hope that the compulsory teaching of New Zealand history will not just teach students when events happened but also show them the onward progress of humanity. In short, it will make people think.
    Here is hoping!

  8. “None of us know the world exactly as it is. We all see it through the lens of our preconceptions, beliefs and knowledge forms. And external forces such as the media and communications, of course.”

    Couldn’t have been put better Liz. It works both ways of course. Considerable time, resources and effort goes into manufacturing consent, as Chomsky would have it. People do speak out. And protest. The way to disrupt such discourses, we are encouraged, is to speak truth to power.

    What we are seeing now is the manufacture of compliance. Some may not see it like that but considerable time, resources and effort ensures that we, the team of 5 million, see the world exactly as it is, through one lens. One might argue that compliance, in the context of a pandemic, is the only option given the potential for poor public health outcomes, especially around the compromised and frail, not to mention the rescheduling or cancelation of electives and acutes as resources are deployed elsewhere. But pandemics are disruptive for everyone (other than Real Estate and Home Improvement Stores it seems): personal lives disrupted, small businesses going to the wall, larger service–dependant business struggling. Is this the reality outside where we are led to believe it has all turned to custard, Even here in Godzone we all pine for normality – and for many business as usual – and compliance may be the price we pay.

    But compliance is an anthemia to a good many. Call them contrarians. As you mention, many of this kind are programmed to fight for what they believe in, and that it is their very human freedoms that are at risk. You concede we cannot pretend these people do not matter. While not strictly speaking truth to power – although in some instances this may well be the case – contrarians stand up for their individual and collective rights. I suspect there are a good many contrarians in the team of 5 million growing tired of messages of compliance.

    Contrarians are not necessarily conspiracy theorists however. Some may well be. But again, in your own words, those who see the world through conspiracies have been programmed on a different channel to the rest of us. They may believe that in challenging dominant narratives they are doing us all a service, but nothing could be further from the truth. Misinformed by their own interpretations this kind simply speak rubbish to rubbish.

  9. The whole ‘Team of 5 million’ thing is of course very very clever buzzwording. Buzzwords are the hallmark of this govt. Everything they do is packaged and wrapped with a buzzword or buzzphrase. They have very clever marketing experts in the backroom.
    The whole thing is designed to make you feel guilty and shit about yourself if you ‘are not in the team’….or on the same page as Jacinda.

    • “They have very clever marketing experts in the backroom.”
      I’m not too sure yet just how “clever” they are. So far, what I see is that the comms & marketers have learnt their craft parrot fashion. I could be wrong of course – it’s just that the language and spin is so unoriginal and formulaic it’s becoming rilly rilly tedious.
      And it might be that JA and a couple of others could just die of hypothermic media exposure


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