I’m starting to wonder if the people who unfavourably compare Britain’s Covid experience with New Zealand’s are being wilfully stupid. There’s no other explanation. No reasonable person would compare the impact of a novel virus on these two nations without mentioning that we are starkly different countries.
You see it all the time now. Praise is heaped on the sainted Jacinda Ardern for doing what Boris Johnson has failed to do: protect her people from sickness and death. New Zealand has had just 21 deaths related to Covid; Britain has had 30,000. Which proves, apparently, that women are better leaders than men when it comes to dealing with crisis and calamity.
‘Women are better leaders – the pandemic proves it’, says CNN, with a pic of Ardern, naturally. ‘The secret weapon in the fight against coronavirus [is] women’, declares a writer for the Guardian. Ardern is a ‘world leader in combating the virus’, the Guardian says. Funny that so few of these Women-vs-Covid pieces mention Sophie Wilmes, the prime minister of Belgium, which has the worst death rate (per capita) in the world.
This week Momentum made one of its viral propaganda videos contrasting the wonderful Ardern with the evil Boris. Her leadership on Covid is why NZ has far fewer cases and deaths than the UK, it claims, and of course it’s being lapped up by Twitter lefties who live to bash the Tories.
The naivety in all of this is staggering. Of course Covid hasn’t moved through New Zealand in the same way it has through the UK, because, erm, New Zealand and the UK are unbelievably different countries.
New Zealand is slightly larger than the UK but it has a tiny population: around 4.8m. That’s half the population of London alone. NZ is sparsely populated. Its population density is 46 people per square mile, in comparison with England’s 710 people per square mile. It should surprise no one that contagious diseases spread more easily in densely populated countries.
What’s more, London is a global hub. It’s a financial, political, migrating hub in a way that Christchurch and Auckland aren’t. Even in terms of tourism, where NZ does well, the UK has up to 40m visitors a year, where New Zealand has around three million.
To put things in perspective, New Zealand has eight times as many sheep as it does people. I say this not to be insulting, but because it’s true! New Zealand is a wide open country with very few people. Perhaps Ms Ardern’s swift lockdown slowed Covid’s spread even more, but Covid’s move through New Zealand would have been fairly slow anyway, certainly in comparison to the UK.
The unfavourable comparisons between the UK and NZ are not based in science or reason, or even reality. Rather, they’re driven by one of the worst political trends in Covid-hit Britain: the urge to pin the blame for everything on Boris Johnson and his government.
I have no doubt that British officialdom has questions to answer about the lack of preparedness, the shortages in protective equipment, and policies such as sending elderly Covid-positive patients from hospitals back to care homes.
But the deeply cynical apportioning of culpability, where Boris is held personally responsible for Covid deaths, is not anything like a reasoned inquiry into the state’s failings. Instead it stinks of infantile Tory-bashing, and even worse – using the deaths of 30,000 people as little more than sticks with which to beat politicians some lefties don’t like.
Ms Ardern should not get overexcited about some of the gushing coverage she is receiving in liberal circles in the UK, because I’m afraid she is being marshalled to the low, morbid endeavour of using the Covid tragedy to score points against the Tories.
The virtual beatification of Ms Ardern by Brits of a liberal or leftish persuasion speaks to an inability to face up to political reality. We might call it Jed Barlet Syndrome. Jed Bartlet was the achingly liberal president superbly played by Martin Sheen in The West Wing. The broadcast of that TV show coincided with the presidency of the decidedly un-liberal George W Bush, bogeyman of right-thinking lefties everywhere. Bartlet became some people’s fantasy president, in a fictional White House that took their minds off the real White House.
Like Justin Trudeau – pre-blackface – Ms Ardern now plays a similar role for middle-class Brits horrified by Boris and Americans who hate Trump. Just as Trudeau’s dancing at Pride marches and wearing of ‘Eid Mubarak’ socks got the virtue-signalling set hot under the collar, so Ardern’s compassionate style and clever use of Instagram makes them wish she was in charge over here.
It’s time to grow up. No doubt Ardern has done some things well and other things less well. That’s the nature of politics. But she leads a country that is geographically, demographically and climatically very different to the UK, and anyone who compares the two countries’ Covid experiences without mentioning this fact should just be ignored.
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