Why have these two people become a Knight and Dame for doing well-remunerated jobs poorly?
So not long after Dr Ashley Bloomfield receives his gong from the Governor-General, we have the public holiday for the King’s Birthday. It isn’t actually his birthday, but this is the second honours round for the year. And his new Queen Camilla actually gets the highest honour, just because she is the new Queen. And she has actually been here a few times on paid holiday. If that were not a farce we then have the spectacle of Jacinda Ardern being given her own special status of Damehood, fit for a narcissist.
Of course it is de rigueur for the former Prime Minister to be given a knighthood. It certainly was for John Key, who had reinstated the colonial honours system so he could then receive one. As it happened, Helen Clark had actually tried to abolish the colonial titles, and instigate a local version, but one of Key’s major achievements was to restore the status quo. Now, most of the gongs are given to people of celebrity status, sports stars, or high income earners who are mostly employed by the State. Obviously the generous salary is not enough, but further down the list come the ordinary people who volunteer.
Do I need to rehearse the double-act routine of Bloomfield and Ardern, in their daily press conferences during the lockdowns which did so much damage to the society they were apparently saving. In fact, the key decision was to close the border early, and then force returning citizens into a lengthy quarantine. Once the borders had re-opened, and the Covid death toll rose exponentially, there were no more press conferences for the duo. And the fawning media never did ask Ardern why her favourite drug, that she pushed on her nationwide tours of vaccine clinics, wasn’t saving the vulnerable people she had promised it would. Bloomfield had already resigned before the death toll got too high. Then his bureaucratic successors decided to change the definition of a Covid fatality, to reduce the numbers, even though the media never ran the story anymore, at least in the main TV news bulletins it was not to be highlighted.
So what of the Ardern legacy? On the Covid front she promised a Royal Commission into the policy setting: just as long as it was limited to the glorious period of the press conference double-act, and before the phase when there was reliance on the Pfizer drug known as Cominarty. Apparently the pandemic was over by March 2022, when everyone was fully vaccinated, apart from the recalcitrants who had held out despite being disenfranchised. It seems doubtful that this Royal Commission will ever take place now, but since it was to be chaired by an academic epidemiologist, rather than a High Court judge, it would have had no significant legal status. Ardern appears to have been captured by these so-called experts, and agreed that the ‘unvaccinated’ had to be physically segregated to the maximum degree possible, although she just repeated their obsession with controlling who used public space.
The main public space in the country, the precinct of Parliament, was occupied by protestors in February 2022, and in March they were removed by force, with much damage done to the grounds. If not Ardern’s celebrity. Indeed, it still seems that, even if she was surprised by the occupation, she manipulated the narrative for short term political advantage. By refusing to negotiate with the deplorable people, or concede that any of them were protesting actual vaccine injuries, it appears to have been a classic divide and rule strategy. She came down hard on those that had disobeyed her, when she was only trying to save the citizenry from disease, and proved they were a threat to public safety. She also constructed a narrative in which all the dissent from her actions was irrational, and evidence of conspiracy theories.
In truth, Ardern created a little celebrity bubble for herself and her cheerleaders in the female dominated media. All her public events were carefully controlled, and she only took questions from officially recognised media. Her televised press conferences were orchestrated to take questions from the TV media celebrities first, and then the hacks from the other press outlets after the TV audience was gone. All of the initial questions would be from female political editors. Outside of Parliament she would call off any press conference that attracted someone who wasn’t accredited, even if they were a qualified journalist.
Ardern got stuck with the narrative in which everyone from outside the bubble, or the public profile elite, was either a follower of her or a conspiracy theorist. The media still use the term for every form of dissent, not just that concerning Covid vaccination. But a lot of the dissent came from people who had either been on the receiving end of her harsh quarantine policies, or who had been harmed by the Pfizer vaccine. She chose never to acknowledge these people’s existence; and when she said that she had made mistakes, in her valedictory speech when leaving Parliament, she never stated what the mistakes were. Even if she had been the great saviour she thinks she is, along the way she decided to ignore the legal rights of citizens, flout established constitutional conventions, and make the Parliamentary process a ‘rubber stamp’ for the Executive. She won a rare parliamentary majority under the MMP system, and decided not to make reforms to the tax system which would involve the richest citizens paying some form of wealth tax: she could impose a lockdown on all citizens, but not ask the wealthiest to pay a fair share. Her successor has only just closed a loophole which had a lower tax rate on those with trusts.
So Ardern goes off to her new role as an international celebrity, while she leaves her Labour Party about to lose in a landslide to the National Party. Some problems she left behind include: rampant inflation; a public health system in crisis; schools that are half empty; universities and polytechnics with large declines in students; a youth crime wave; a spate of murders and violence; and a country prone to extreme weather related damage. Of course she couldn’t really do anything about the weather either.
Back to the honours list, the two major parties have always rewarded their loyalists and donors. But there is also a sense in which the right sort of people are to be recognised, not those engaged in dissent. This makes the example of Nicky Hager interesting, who was honoured for his service to ‘investigative journalism’, as an independent writer. He has mainly been a researcher into defence and spying issues, but has also embarrassed both Labour and National Governments with scandals exposed during election campaigns. Maybe he doesn’t have anything up his sleeve this time. But everything he did write was always dismissed as a ‘conspiracy theory’ by John Key. The habit of calling critics a conspiracy theorist has magnified greatly after Ardern’s reign in office, and so there is certainly some continuity there. But you have to see the irony in Labour rewarding the most effective conspiracy theorist of them all.