Opinion

Editors’ Voices

What can we learn from Jacinda Ardern and New Zealand? – Oliver Shaw

Jacinda Ardern is New Zealand’s most popular leader in a century. In a new poll, 57% said that they would vote for Ardern’s Labour Party in a general election – up 20% from 2017. Seeing the PM’s sky-high approval ratings, the opposition National Party swiftly ditched their leader at the end of May.

What can be learnt from New Zealand’s coronavirus strategy, without overlooking important national differences? Tough lockdown measures, backed by 92% of New Zealanders, were quickly introduced and borders shut on 19 March. By contrast, the UK will only impose quarantine on arrivals from 8 June, even if travel into the country has hugely declined. By late April, an effective contact tracing system had all but extinguished the spread of COVID-19 in New Zealand. Ardern has been an effective and empathetic communicator throughout the crisis; government briefings, defined by clarity, optimism and compassion, have frequently gone viral.

The UK government faces questions about why it did not act sooner to halt the spread of the disease in a country much bigger than New Zealand. As life returns to normal for Kiwis, British shops remain closed, we stay two metres from our loved ones and the tragic death toll grows significantly each day if not, perhaps, as rapidly as before.

Big challenges face New Zealand’s economy and the continued closure of borders will be devastating for its tourism and hospitality sectors. But if Ardern’s record is anything to go by, the country is in good hands as it plans a post-coronavirus future – and we should probably listen and learn.

The year of two crises – Shayon Mukherjee

When you’re staring at something straight in front of you, you have about a 300° blind spot. Everything on the periphery becomes unimportant. Whether drab or fascinating, and no matter how strong your sight, what’s before you becomes all you can see.

During the crisis, our TVs have been forcing a strange doublethink onto us. We see Communities Minister Robert Jenrick leading a press briefing in London urging us to stay home responsibly, before seeing him reappear on the news two days later in his second home in Herefordshire, and a few days after we see he’s visited his elderly parents in Shropshire too. Matt Hancock stressed that staying at home was ‘not a request’ but ‘an instruction’. Meanwhile, Dominic Cummings is lauded as a responsible parent ‘with integrity’ by our Prime Minister for visiting his parents after having been exposed to coronavirus.

Although our collective eye might (rightly) be trained upon tackling coronavirus, it is easy to forget that we are in the midst of not one, but two nationally defining crises in which this brand of government doublethink is spread. We are to cherish our European neighbours and partners and restrict their power to come and live here. We are to clap for our carers and nurses and deny them the chance to work here because some may earn under £23,000 and don’t have PhDs. So we must not let Brexit slip into our national blind spot – we should hold the government to account for its continued mismanagement of the Brexit negotiations as severely as we do its handling of COVID-19.

Da 5 Bloods – Ben O’Brien

Spike Lee’s latest film, Da 5 Bloodsportrays the moment a group of African American soldiers, crouched round a radio in the Vietnamese jungle, learned about the assassination Martin Luther King Jr. At the same time as these soldiers were being asked to fight for their country in the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement was having to fight against African Americans’ status as second-class citizens at home. 

The film is an interesting reminder of the historical disconnect between voting rights and the right – or the requirement – to bear arms in military conflict. It might be thought that the vote and military service went hand in hand; as feminist political philosopher Carole Pateman noted, one argument used against women’s suffrage was that women, once given the vote, would have to fight for their country – and the country would go to military ruin. 

Pateman showed how disingenuousness this argument was by pointing out that, decades after they were granted suffrage, women were still not allowed in frontline military combat. Importantly, Lee shows how disingenuous the argument was in the opposite way: African Americans were expected to fight for their country before they were given truly equal voting rights.

Digital life after the pandemic– Elizabeth Reynard

People that think that our digital lifestyle will change for the better after COVID-19 are naïve. I say people – I should substitute this in for my mum’s WhatsApp groups, but I don’t think that Sarah from Terrington has enough time to create multiple inspirational YouTube videos on the subject to be given all the credit. However, many people may have seen the video that was popular a few weeks ago, of a man telling his son the story that ‘Once upon a time there was a virus’ which sets out a lovely, if naively hopeful, vision of the world post-corona. If uplifting, it focuses on the wrong part of our future, choosing to predict a world where we lay down our laptops and embrace our neighbour face to face. While perhaps ironically appealing to my mum’s WhatsApp groups, who want nothing more than to throw all phones into the nearest river – or so they text each other – if there is one positive that this pandemic has proven, it is how much we can, and should, rely on technology to help us.

Rather than continuing to wax lyrical about how we have learnt to move away from technology, we should be focusing and talking about how it has facilitated a small sense of community in a time where isolation has been the rule of the day. So, as (hopefully) we move slowly out of lockdown, it might be worth – rather than ruing the day that technology invaded our lives forever – to realise how technology has given us the blueprint for a safer and closer future.