Has the shine come off Saint Jacinda?

Has the shine come off Saint Jacinda?
Jacinda Ardern (photo: Getty)
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For a short time it seemed as if Jacinda Ardern, the popular premier of New Zealand, could do no wrong in the eyes of the British political establishment. The New Zealand PM was held up as the Platonic ideal of a liberal, centrist leader who had saved her country by locking down during the pandemic.

The praise of Ardern reached fever pitch in October last year, when she romped home in the New Zealand elections. Labour MPs gushed over Jacinda’s ‘real leadership’ and suggested that: ‘Jacinda shows what a competent, moderate, progressive, emotionally intelligent, immensely likeable & unifying Labour leader can achieve.’

Meanwhile, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, congratulated Ardern on her win and ‘fine victory speech’ and then spent the next six months trying to get the New Zealand PM to reply to her on Twitter. 

And things got a little out of hand at the Guardian, with one headline reading: ‘New Zealanders have recognised the good luck that Jacinda Ardern is ours’, with the piece suggesting that she had inspired ‘love and devotion’. The Indy then argued that she was ‘a beacon of hope in our tumultuous times’.

Soon afterwards, when the Kiwi premier formed her Cabinet, the New York Times practically hyperventilated as it announced that Jacinda had put together ‘the most diverse [Cabinet] in the country's history.’

It turns out though that appointing a diverse Cabinet is not exactly a guarantee of moral character. Today, New Zealand announced that it was distancing itself from its ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing partners, after the allied group has taken a tougher line on China’s human rights abuses.

Ardern’s foreign minister said that New Zealand would not allow its relationship with China to be defined by Five-Eyes (also made up of Britain, America, Canada and Australia) and suggested that New Zealand needed to ‘maintain and respect’ China’s ‘particular customs, traditions and values’. Mr S isn’t sure if those customs include the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women in Xinjiang or not…

The move isn’t out of character, either. Only last month New Zealand urged Australia to ‘show more respect’ to China, after Australia had just been hit with punitive sanctions by Beijing for criticising human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

So why is Jacinda Ardern choosing to cosy up to a regime which appears to be putting its ethnic minorities in concentration camps? The answer presumably lies in the fact that 29 per cent of New Zealand’s exports go to China. In other words, it appears that Saint Jacinda is happy to sweep a spot of genocide under the rug as long as it keeps New Zealand’s coffers full. Mr S can only wonder whether this means her many cheerleaders in Britain will finally reconsider their praise for such a kind, compassionate leader...