Day 37 and tonight I am thinking about our great leader Jacinda Ardern and how she has negotiated a path through a devilish maze of challenges these past weeks, balancing the safety of her people and the protection of our economy, as best she can dealt an impossible situation, with deftness and grace. I am in awe of her. Where global leaders and politicians, some of them almost double her age and with all the privilege and advantage that membership of an exclusive, white male hegemony bestows upon them, have stumbled and side-stepped and delayed, letting their egos get in the way of making sound decision-making and in the process watched death rates soar higher and higher while Jacinda, on the other hand, only in her fortieth year on the planet, has guided us swiftly through a crisis and brought us almost to safety. She is being hailed around the world for her astute leadership, her actions being described as ‘a triumph of science and leadership.’
What is it that makes this woman so seriously good, the new type of leader humanity desperately needs? There are the star qualities; she combines a highly tuned intelligence with an abundance of empathy; there’s her straightforward honest style — people trust her — and superb communication skills which speak to people across socioeconomic groups and prove irresistible. I’m thinking of her daily press conferences which many of us leaned on through alert level 4, and her style. There she spoke with feeling, her message was clear, she encouraged each of us to take responsibility and to work collectively to achieve the goal of virus containment. In photos on the cover of Time magazine, in the Guardian, on Al Jazeera, the pages of Vogue and Mindfood —she’s everywhere — it’s there in her face, a radiance and goodness that shines forth. She is authentic. She is principled and ethical and she walks the talk. Recently, in acknowledgement of the economic pain many New Zealanders are experiencing, the prime minister and her cabinet took a 20% pay cut. Where else in the world would or does that happen?
The other important element in Jacinda’s success is that she hasn’t done this alone. Her ability to work constructively with her own tight cabinet and to listen to, synthesise and act on the advice of a wider task force of advisors and public health officials, has been her strength. In combination with Dr Ashley Bloomfield, director general of health they have made a powerful duo. And also with Grant Robertson, our minister of finance. I remember watching Grant Robertson at the historic television press conference on 24 March when Jacinda announced the plan that would take us into lockdown. As she talked of the hard and uncertain road that lay ahead, of the sacrifices we would all have to make, and of the impact on our economy I saw Grant Robertson gulp and his eyes moisten. He stood staunchly by as she outlined unprecedented plans for freezing New Zealand businesses and it was obvious this economy that had enjoyed healthy surpluses was surely going to take a knock. There was no way we would escape unscathed. Robertson’s expression at that time, of genuine emotion entirely appropriate to the magnitude of what the course of action would trigger was the human response I needed in that moment, watching alone, cut off from my family, feeling afraid. I remember phoning my daughter directly after the screening and that we cried together. I treasure that memory now, not the distress we were feeling but that it was shared and in that way eased a little.
What amazes me though is that still there are the cynics, the misanthropes and the naysayers. Most of them, unsurprisingly, are the white and powerful men in opposition and their female counterparts who, unthinkingly, accept the values of the elite. Others are just mad, bad misogynists who cannot accept that a woman can govern so supremely well. I’ve heard that two men are suing Jacinda for imposing a lockdown, claiming there was no threat, she made up her numbers. It’s more likely they have issues with her being female. In Gerard Otto’s recent post on Facebook ‘Jacinda’s critics need to get real’ he shone a spotlight on the miserly critics who cry she has ‘no substance’. This, even after her ethical and humane handling of the Christchurch mosque massacres, even after her exemplary management of coronavirus, even after she bailed their businesses out, still they cry ‘no substance’ and stoop to pathetic comments about her appearance, her hairstyle, her teeth. There is nothing new in this phenomenon it’s how many a female leader around the world is regularly treated by her critics, who repeatedly demean, discredit and devalue her achievements. I remember meeting a person who did the exact same thing with Helen Clark. Everything was wrong with her because she was a woman — it was her teeth, it was her deep voice insinuating she was lesbian, as though that was a slur against her character, and this from a man with questionable morals and who was, to use his own words, ‘no oil painting.’
I would like to think that the denigrators are in the minority and belong to an outmoded and crumbling edifice that is surely on the way out. Surely. Please. I think the world is ready for the new leadership, one that listens to and connects with the people, one that draws on the skills of professionals and advisors, a warm kind of leadership that is being demonstrated by Jacinda Ardern along with several other female leaders currently guiding their countries through the pandemic — Angela Merkel in Germany, Erna Solberg in Norway, Katrín Jakobsdóttir in Iceland and Silveria Jacobs in the Caribbean nation of Sint Maarten.