The New Zealand prime minister has calmly steered her country in the face of a massacre, an eruption, and a pandemic. Now she is laughing in the face of seismic shakes
Name: Jacinda Ardern v the earthquake.
Age: New Zealand prime minister Ardern is 39; the earthquake was on Monday morning.
Jacinda? No, she was cool, calm and smiling throughout. It was everything around her that was shaking as the 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck during a live interview she was giving to a breakfast TV station from a room in the New Zealand parliament building in Wellington. “We’re just having a bit of an earthquake here … we’re fine,” she told interviewer Ryan Bridge.
What a hero! I wonder how Boris Johnson would have reacted. He would probably have dived under the lectern or maybe hidden behind deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries.
Ardern is having quite a time in office. You can say that again. As journalist Michael Field put it: “What’s an earthquake when, as prime minister, you’ve dealt with a massacre, an eruption and a pandemic.”
She survived them all. More than that, she brought the nation together at a time of fear and adversity. She responded quickly to the Christchurch mosque shootings in March 2019, embraced the Muslim community, and immediately banned semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. She showed the same empathy after the White Island eruption in December 2019 and her policy of locking down early in response to the coronavirus pandemic made New Zealand a model for best practice.
Amazing. Indeed. She also became the second world leader ever to give birth while in office when she welcomed daughter Neve Te Aroha in June 2018.
She seems too good to be true. Maybe our expectations have been lowered by the quality of leaders elsewhere in the world.
There must be something bad about her we can dig up. The Financial Times doesn’t think so, headlining an article that praised her attention to detail in the handling of the coronavirus crisis “Arise Saint Jacinda, a leader for our troubled times”. But there are some who say the lockdown has been over the top and devastated the New Zealand economy unnecessarily. “We don’t want to squash a flea with a sledgehammer and bring the house down,” said one Auckland-based epidemiologist.
How has she responded to the criticism? She took a 20% pay cut to show solidarity with her country’s suffering workers, and is now floating the controversial idea of a four-day working week in a bid to boost domestic tourism.
How are her poll ratings? Stratospheric. Off the political Richter scale. Her personal approval rating is 65% while the opposition leader is on 7%.
Do say: “Any chance she could run the UK as well?”
Don’t say: “A baby is no big deal for a politician. Boris has produced six. At least!”