We live in a country where the food banks can barely cope with the demand, but the Labour-led Government still won't increase core benefits despite sitting on a $7 billion surplus. We've been told that we have less than twelve years to tackle climate cage before we reach the point of no return, but the Government's entire business-friendly strategy is based on supposedly achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Despite such glaring discrepancies, the international media has embraced Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as a young, progressive leader. But now, as events continue to unfold at Ihumatao, some less flattering stories about Ardern are beginning to appear in that same international media.
THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA have hoisted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern into the celestial sky as a shining star of progressive hope, the great liberal hope for better days ahead. Even before the tragic events in Christchurch in March, Ardern was being hailed by the New York Times, as 'one of the young, progressive leaders countering Donald Trump'.
And, pursuing the same theme, Vogue magazine ran a profile of the newly-elected Prime Minister Ardern in February 2018. There she was, in several photoshopped photos, standing on a beach, the wind blowing through her hair, wearing an expensive trench coat, looking like she had just dropped off the catwalk.
Vogue has continued with its own version of 'Jacindamania', with Ardern featuring in the new edition of the magazine guest edited by Meghan Markel, the new member of the British aristocracy. Markel chose Ardern as one of her fifteen women representing 'forces for change'. In the promotional video for the issue a carefully coiffed Ardern tells us that the world has become 'polarised' but "I do think there is a solution to that though, and that's ultimately us coming back to the humanity that we all share." It's 'We Are The World' all over again and just as vacuous.
But despite Jacinda Ardern's progressive branding, New Zealand is still pretty much where Bill English and his National-led Government left us. Ardern's campaign promise that she would lead a government of transformation has come to naught. Its largely been business as usual but with a new set of faces occupying the Treasury benches.
On her two main policy platforms, tackling poverty and climate change, Ardern has done little of real consequence. The country's level of poverty continues to deepen with food banks barely able to cope with the demand on their services. While Ardern loudly expressed her concern about child poverty during the election campaign she leads a government that has rejected substantially increasing benefit levels as recommended by its own welfare working in order to 'alleviate widespread economic distress'.
And while she claimed during her election campaign that climate change was 'the nuclear free issue of her generation' she and her Climate Minister James Shaw are aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 even though the exhaustive 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have no more than twelve years to effectively combat worsening environmental conditions before we reach the point of no return. Ardern is fiddling while the planet burns.
The international media has been in love with Jacinda Ardern but in the country in which she is Prime Minister, desperate beneficiaries are lining up outside Work and Income offices at two in the morning. She, like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who she has often been compared, is a faux progressive, accustomed to getting a free pass from the media because she makes all the right noises.
Jacinda Ardern is illustrative of the way celebrity culture often becomes part of the political culture. Jacinda Ardern is a brand. People are attracted by the images, conned into believing the slogans and symbolic gestures. And Jacinda Ardern, with a 'boiler room' of advisers and spin doctors behind her, has largely been allowed to get away with it.
But events at Ihumatao have burst Ardern's bubble. In this clash between working class Maori and the forces of capital, Ardern's 'progressive' credentials are under real scrutiny perhaps for the first time, at least within mainstream circles. And she's squirming. While in Tokelau she reportedly tried to prevent the media from asking her about the Ihumatao dispute. According to TV3's Tova O'Brien 'Her staff threatened journalists with restricted access to the PM if they did, forcing her Beehive team to intervene from Wellington.'
And Minister for Crown Maori Relations Kelvin Davis says that Ardern won't be going to Ihumatao to meet protesters as they have requested. While Davis might say that 'We've got Maori ministers who are actually working on the issue, so we don't want to overcomplicate the situation', this is also about protecting the Ardern brand.
It may be too late for that. The New York Times has gone from championing Ardern's 'progressive' credentials to reporting that 'Jacinda Ardern Is Tested by Construction on Land Held Sacred by Maori.' Ardern's shiny image is losing its luster. The struggle by Maori and working class interests at Ihumatao have exposed Jacinda Ardern's fake progressivism.