A recent respondent on this blog referred to the “cult of Jacinda.” A cult? The dictionary defines ‘cult’ as devotion or worship of someone, with an added significant reference to a “transient fad.” So probably it’s a fair description although unlike religious cults, in Jacinda’s case, she’s not responsible for seeking or promoting it.

The fact is she’s a genuinely nice person and that comes through to the public; ergo their affection. That said she’s not the first New Zealand politician to stimulate such messiah-like adoration. Michael Joseph Savage certainly did with the working classes, it persisting long after his death.

In my young days I was obsessed with boxing. Back then it was dominated in its management and participation by Catholics, this before the influx of Islanders in the mid-1950s. Going to Catholic boxing mates’ homes was entering an alien world of crucifixes on the wall, and always, the stock photo of Savage in their hallways.

But nothing matches the fervour Rob Muldoon generated in 1974-6. He was a plain fare, highly intelligent straight talker who had a natural affinity with the “ordinary bloke” as he referred to the average man in the street, and as with Jacinda they sensed it. And like Jacinda he was quite at ease talking to them. But he never struck the same connect with the opposite sex, something I suspect is also true of Jacinda.

There are other commonalities. Both saw their stars soar in times of crisis with Rob’s an economic one and Jacinda, the corona health issue. Rob emanated an aura of economic competence which is what people sought. Conversely with the health crisis Jacinda delivered the needed empathy. Like everywhere then in the Western world, Rob dealt with the problems by an unimaginative persistence with the prevailing orthodoxy. But the world had changed, something he never recognised. As said, that wasn’t peculiar to New Zealand. The world was wallowing in an economic doldrum instigated by the oil price surge and soaring inflation and was being dealt with by hanging on in, and heavy state borrowing to see it through.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s with Reagan, Hawke, Thatcher, Douglas et al that the world woke to the shortcomings of big government and embraced the low direct tax, market economy. Eventually Rob’s star power waned, culminating ultimately in public contempt.

Currently Jacinda is following the same orthodox path with the covid crisis. That’s understandable and logical but it may prove, as with Muldoon, that it’s not the answer.

If for example, as is possible, no vaccine is successfully developed and the world continues to have periodic covid outbreaks, common-sense says we cannot persist with lockdowns. The social, health and economic toll would be horrendous.

Nevertheless, albeit on the economic front, that effectively is what Muldoon did, thereby compounding the problem. Should that covid scenario arise it will be a huge test of character whether Jacinda can make a bold decision. This of course assumes Labour wins the election.

It’s not a criticism but a fact that in achievement terms, Jacinda’s current star power is based on a mythology. Repeatedly we read of her brilliant handling of three crises. First the mosque massacre. Her reaction was widely (and ignorantly) praised. Urging New Zealand females to don headscarves in empathy, which sheep-like they did, was regrettable.

For the headscarf had become the symbol for young Muslim women everywhere to fight the oppression of their religion’s treatment of them. In the week our women dutifully donned headscarves, a prominent middle-aged Iranian woman lawyer was sentenced to 150 lashes followed by life imprisonment for defending young Iranian women who were rejecting the headscarf in protest.

To illustrate how things are changing on this front, even the despot currently ruling Saudi Arabia is urging Saudi women to burn their burkas and throw away their headscarves in his effort to modernise the Moslem culture.

The second momentous event Jacinda has been praised for was her handling of the White Island tragedy. Why? I’m damned if I know.

This is part of the contagious Messiah mythology. It’s virtually represented as if Jacinda told the volcano to stop being a naughty boy and cut out the eruptions. In fact she did nothing. Nor could she.

And now we have the pandemic.

Ludicrous praise has fallen her way for the “hard and fast” nonsense. In fact, the New Zealand reaction, in every single detail, was copied from other nations’ responses, which of course is not a criticism. The world was sailing in the dark and additionally, was confused by the multitude of academic experts voicing a rich variety of different response proposals.

In that respect we should not ignore the human factor. A hitherto totally unknown academic is suddenly thrust to the fore and finds him or herself a household name. It’s a reality, not cynicism when I say that’s not something people give up lightly; to the contrary, they have an interest in its continuation. This dominance in our news has brought about a climate of fear.

A recent statistics evidence-based article in the highly respected The Lancet revealed the odds of anyone under 50 dying from Covid-19 is less than being killed in a road accident. We know now who’s vulnerable and should target protection efforts on them.

Churchill acknowledged that in times of crisis, the public deify leaders. He scoffed at the saviour imagery he received after the war, once saying, “a Liverpool housewife could have done what I did”. As according to his closest advisor he was sensibly blind drunk most days during the war, doubtless that was correct.

So looking to history the current deification of Jacinda is explicable. As to its durability, history offers a less optimistic outlook, in New Zealand’s case with the derision subsequently heaped on Muldoon. The legacy of his orthodoxy was a massive state debt, as to an immensely greater degree will be the case with the virus. That said, the historically low, current near nil interest rates levels out the quantum significance.

The Nazis were defeated so Churchill’s nonsensical saviour reputation remained intact, but not so for the vanquished such as Hitler and Mussolini, hitherto accorded messiah status.

Ultimately, as with all human events the outcome will rest on chance, that is plain old luck.

In the case of Covid-19 that’s the possibility of a vaccine. But many experts are warning that may not eventuate. Should that be the case and we have third and subsequent virus waves, the true test of Jacinda’s leadership will arise as the messiah mythology, as with Muldoon, fades away.

Leadership is easy most of the time in a known world. But its calibre is only truly revealed in an unknown situation, as would be the case with Covid-19 given a no vaccine situation. In such a scenario closing down society is no answer.


The Silent Majority August 20, 2020 at 12:27 pm

Not all NZ women donned the headscarf. This one didn’t. I attended the one week memorial with no headscarf. I stood in solidarity with the Iranian woman. My dog enjoyed the memorial too!

I don’t agree that “she’s not responsible for seeking or promoting it”. It seems entirely deliberate and planned, as are the sneakily implemented socialist changes that they impose on us whenever we are distracted with the latest crisis.

Dear Sir Bob,
I am enjoying your blog more and more. This is the best I have seen to date.
You say “Ultimately, as with all human events the outcome will rest on chance, that plain old luck”.
I disagree and I believe it takes wisdom and an understanding that ‘Luck is the residue of design’.
To forge an effective way forward requires more than looking good and controlling the narrative.
I have a definition of wisdom: It is:
Knowing you don’t know you don’t know.
Or put another way:
The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.
~R. D. Laing

But what counts is the action plan that comes next. This requires a deep commitment to inquire, and to question, and sometimes to shake things up. The answers are usually hidden in plain sight once you start looking. The wonderful thing is there a plenty of caring, competent people around who are delighted to contribute.

Comon Bob, you’re taking the michael

I think Muldoon benefitted from the vacuum that was left by the death of Norman Kirk. Bob Jones seems not to have rated him (they were critical of landlords and property investors courtesy of wage and price freezes and other measures they used to try and address a housing shortage they made worse

…but “Big Norm” was NZ’s first genuine TV political star. And like Savage, was dearly loved and never forgotten by a faithful demographic. In many ways Muldoon, who was in many ways the same as Kirk (they had similar wrong-side-of-the-tracks childhoods and both were intensely practical and very intelligent men). Hence he assumed his mantle among some otherwise traditional Labour voters.

The best leaders are willing to make the hard & unpopular decisions without selfish thought to their political careers, and then bear the brunt of those decisions in the knowledge that they did the right thing (e.g. Roger Douglas, Margaret Thatcher).

The worst leaders rate their popularity as far more important than doing the right thing, John Key was one of these to a certain degree. Of all these useless populist politicians, Jacinda Ardern would have to be the absolute worst I’ve seen – willing to severely & probably permanently cripple the country repeatedly in order to avoid being seen as responsible for even 1 person dying from Covid-19. Deaths from 30,000 postponed surgeries & increased suicides don’t factor because Jacinderella won’t be held responsible for them. If you add up those deaths & subtract them from expected Covid deaths without a lockdown, would the numbers be too much different from annual flu death rates? If not, then why don’t we lockdown every winter for flu? Because it is all about Jacinda Ardern’s public image & the brainless sheep who follow the horse – ‘4 legs good, 2 legs baaaaad’.

Maybe the time is approaching to migrate and leave the national debt to those who wanted it.

    I’m a 37 year old business owner who is thinking about leaving NZ for the first time in my life. I’m horrified by the debt they are running up for this madness, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for it!

    Might apply to Sweden as a coronavirus refugee…

      The only saving grace is that money is so cheap at the moment, they are not racking up huge 70s style interest bills. They basically only have to pay back the principal over a few budget cycles. The only problem is that Labour governments generally operate in deficit and National governments generally operate in surplus.

frederickwilliscroft August 20, 2020 at 2:43 pm

I can never fathom why Adern has such high popularity. As an opposition spokesperson I thought she was dreadfully lightweight and I often remarked that she seemed totally ineffective, never landing any hits and often sulking and pouting when getting dealt to by whomever government minister she was questioning.
I was away in Europe for all of the last election campaign but I understand she campaigned well and performed well in the leadership debates so all credit to her for that. Additionally she does seem a friendly person.
However if we set aside the Mosque shooting, White Island and Covid I think she has been a poor prime minister presiding over an inept government. I can hardly think of any achievements and their list of failures is as long as your arm. Kiwibuild (largest big policy failure in last 50 years), Light Rail, Reducing Poverty, House Waiting Lists, Provincial Growth Fund, Student Fees, Immigration Cock Ups,Electric Cars, Increased ED Waiting Times. They have interminable working groups who compile meaningless recommendations which are then uniformly ignored e.g. CGT.
For this the PM has to shoulder the blame. She should demanding more accountability from her ministers and she doesn’t appear to understand complex policy. I regard her as particularly weak in this area.This unlike John Key and Helen Clark who were in total command of policy. John Key was particularly strong on economics.
Furthermore I fail to see why she gets so kudos for her handling of Covid. Our so called success to me was more by good luck than good management. The continuing failures at the border, despite her reassuring tones, are just not good enough.
She is extremely fortunate that she has an obsequious media who swoon over every media briefing, every cute photo opportunity. Our journalistic stocks are at an all time low. If this was a John Key led government the media would daily eviscerate him and bombard him with questions. Unbelievably she is rarely held to account.
I predict in years to come people will scratch their heads and say “how did such a lightweight gain so much popularity”.

    Yes, have to agree Fred, lightweight pretty much sums it up.
    We’ve seen an awful lot of Jacinda (the Herald usually have five or six photos of her on their website) but I’ve never heard her say or write anything interesting that I can recall.

I think the most dangerous politicians are the ones we love the most – because they escape the most scrutiny. Donald Trump, contrasting with Jacinda, is probably the safest president America has ever had; every move he makes is butchered and brutalised from every imaginable angle, fairly or not.

Roys the name, truths the game August 20, 2020 at 3:19 pm

We will agree to disagree. Well befre her elevation in Labour ranks Ms Ardern was working on Brand Ardern. With training in PR at Waikato university she early on learnt the tools of the trade in persuation and imaging. There are many ways to generate Brand. You Sir Bob by being successful in business and being a good communicator(Think Back to your letters).

Then there is the branding used by scammers who would have you believe they are great and wonderful people, refer to “”catch me if you can””.

My concern about Ms Ardern? She may be a wonderful caring person, but she seems always absent when bad news(brand damging news) is to be fronted. This is not the trait of a great leader in my humble opinion.

    Call me a conspiracy theorist if you wish…but what you say about ardern evading difficult situations is quite true. We’ve seen it many times recently. She ended up having to demote the useless health minister who liked going to the beach and riding his bike..because National were putting such pressure on her. And why has she said the election WILL NOT be adjourned again? I think its because of the USA elections in early November. In spite of all the dirty tricks going on in the states in efforts to belittle trump…I believe he’s going to bolt in. And ardern knows it. And if we hadn’t had our election when trump gets re-elected it would have a spin on effect here. Just my opinion.

      “Trump’s going to bolt in?” But but but, weren’t you listening to the DNC? Despite the complete absence of policies, if we all just vote for Biden in November, everything in the future will be strawberries and sunshine !!!

This was a great piece, but the paragraph on probability and statistics betrays the danger of a little knowledge, to which that subject is especially prone.

Risking repeating myself you can’t compare that which grows to that which doesn’t. Viruses spread, car accidents or drownings or most anything else doesn’t.

When ruin is involved fools draw such parallels at their and other’s peril.

It is that very multiplicative property that is why disease outbreaks have the fattest of fat tails statistically (nearly incomprehensibly extreme range of possible outcomes, a misleadingly large number of which will be ‘low’).

The modern world is more prone to this than ever due to how connected it is.

Human events do indeed rest on chance.

I’ll stop before rehashing anything else, much of it already in various places on this blog (some of it just now).

You note “If for example, as is possible, no vaccine is successfully developed and the world continues to have periodic covid outbreaks, common-sense says we cannot persist with lockdowns. The social, health and economic toll would be horrendous”.
I think the wording should read if “no successful vaccine is developed”. It is relatively easy to develop a vaccine. The difficulty is producing one that is likely to produce good immunity, preferably long term. It will take time to prove these latter needs.

I love being able to access these thoughts from Bob and the follow up commentary.
It really keeps me grounded and confirms my sanity and grip on reality.
Thanks to all !

    …are you sure; I read this stuff and agree with general sentiment, however whats the definition of sane in this country? …i’d consider myself to be a normal teapot and intend to continue being offended by anything that is not anti-establishment. “long live the socialista”….and Cindy our wonderful dogs tail leader.

Sir Bob, to correct you again.

Cambridge University statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter said that only under-50s with no “pre-existing health conditions” are more likely to die from a car accident or an injury than Covid-19. There are of course plenty of under 50s with pre-existing medical conditions.

The blanket statement he gave of people more likely to die from a car accident than Covid-19 only applied to under-40’s.

The gaping hole in this rationale is all the people who end up in hospital due to Covid-19 but don’t die.

Missed something here. Development of vaccines and defeating the Nazis may have had moments of chance but that played no meaningful part in the outcomes.
Pretty women in politics should always be treated with suspicion as lifes usually been easy for them.

I wrote an email to Professor Michael Levitt, Stanford University, 2013 Nobel laureate in chemistry, here is his reply, slightly reduced but accurate :
“You are lucky, I have been thinking of NZ.
I think Covid19 deaths are likely to displace flu deaths so if I were to run NZ I would do everything to get life back to normal and let deaths rise. If intensive care seems to be overflowing I would implement masks and social distancing.
This way the 500 flu deaths would be Covid deaths instead and help get NZ to saturation. The level for NZ is likely to be less than the 400/mil in Sweden as more young people and lower mortality of 7.7/1000. With population of 5 million I expect saturation of less than 1000 excess deaths about double flu (a guess). Michael.”
… he is a pragmatic scientific genius, and his credentials cannot be challenged. I wonder what the lunatics running the coalition would make of that.

I think the lessons described in Richard Prebble’s most entertaining “I’ve Been Thinking”, around 35 years ago now, are applying again with a vengeance. One thing Prebble said was, once he become a government MP, he realised “Yes, Minister” was a documentary rather than comedy. No-one in any Department has any incentive to actually solve any problem, and no-one has any accountability for not solving it. For example, the Railways Department had no incentive to find a farmer’s lost tractor; in fact they had no incentive to stop losing things, period.

I feel sorry for the well-meaning Phil Twyford being let down flat by his own bureaucrats; firstly on Kiwibuild (but I’m not sorry that initiative failed) and worse, on his reform of funding of infrastructure for urban growth; apparently he was stonewalled all the way by every bureaucrat who had any position of relevance to the issue. Urban planning and housing affordability is something I know a bit about; and I think I can say that the only experts who understand that unintended consequences of planning controls are the cause of housing unaffordability, are people who are Uni Professors, private sector consultants, and so on. I do not believe there is a single bureaucrat anywhere in the world, who understands cause and effect on the issue of urban land rent inflation; even when they are the government’s full-time paid “experts” on the subject.

I think Covid-19 policy is a classic illustration of the same effect at work. Sir Bob is quite right, there seemed to be a confusion of “expert” voices, so Jacinda just ran with an “orthodoxy”. But here is the essential problem: when there is so much at stake, why should the principle be that “we must defer blindly to the OFFICIAL experts, and everybody else is a contrarian who must be censored by the media and Big Tech”? What is it about the selection of “official” experts to sit behind a desk, that makes them automatically superior sources of wisdom, to “mere” Uni Department Heads and working researchers and frontline practitioners? Actually official experts worldwide end up as a narrow cabal riddled with groupthink and hubris – the opposite should be true in time of crisis; elected representatives should call for something like a “sales pitch” on the part of as many credentialed experts as possible, and decide who is convincing. By all means act on an orthodoxy when time seems to be of the essence, but if something is obviously wrong with the orthodoxy after 1 week, or 2, or 3, or 4, or 5; a good leader recognises this and changes course.

Instead, what has happened is that in most parts of the world a de facto totalitarianism has been imposed, with what might be the best advice consigned to Orwellian oblivion. It is taking months of increasing numbers of epidemiologists and associated experts, to beat at the doors of the media and government, trying to point out that there is pretty much two camps on “how Covid spreads”, and the “orthodox” one is being proved wrong by evidence everywhere. Even the New York Times is now giving coverage to this initiative, which now has hundreds of well-credentialed experts signed up to it, and which has gone as far as to condemn the WHO in pretty stern language.

The WHO has had to be corrected about everything so far, it is just taking far too many months to budge them from the orthodoxy on “how Covid spreads”. It is aerosols indoors (airborne viruses) rather than “droplets”. The Mt Vernon Choir practice outbreak in March, alone, should have demonstrated this beyond question.

Lockdowns have been proven, literally every time the data has been crunched, to have no causative relationship to the curve of Covid deaths (death comes 3 to 8 weeks after infection, note). Lockdowns seem to “work” like carpet-bombing seems to work; however, like carpet-bombing might actually miss the enemy’s leadership and military capability, lockdowns can miss actual LETHAL Covid-19 spread. Lockdowns don’t keep Covid-19 out of Rest Homes. If the experts knew how to keep Covid-19 out of Rest Homes, then lockdowns are superfluous; if they don’t keep it out of Rest Homes even as they destroy the economy, society and health itself with a lockdown, this is like a double “own goal”.

They NEVER knew how to keep it confined within quarantine facilities; it was always going to get out. NZ is almost unique in attempting this route; worth a try, you might say, because of “remoteness” being in our favour anyway. Most politicians, and Jacinda is included in this (as Sir Bob rightly says) are facing fait accomplis that lockdowns are completely unsustainable, so they are forced to “cope with the virus anyway”. Just as some sharp-minded Russians liked to joke about Communism being the longest and costliest route to freedom and capitalism, lockdowns are proving to be the longest and costliest route to herd immunity. NZ’s uniqueness was its claim to have “eradicated the virus”, which depended on sustaining quarantine of arrivals.

However, Jacinda was always heading for a fall that is entirely typical of politicians with blind faith in their own official experts. All the 2 metre distancing and hand sanitizing, and even mask wearing, was not going to stop new arrivals, staff, and old arrivals about to be released into the community, sharing the same indoors air in their respiratory tracts on days and weeks where the indoors is closed off to cold weather outside. Some of us have been arguing for months that this is a HVAC issue as much as a medical one, and in fact the modern trend towards “energy efficient” HVAC systems has resulted in the “V” being left out of HVAC. So this is possibly an “unintended consequence” cause of some respiratory pathogen becoming a worse pandemic than such things were in the past.

Probably the best things you can read on this subject are “The Carpenters of the WHO” by Maurice de Hond; and “We Need To Talk About Ventilation” by Zeynep Tufekci.

    Some strong points, many of which I have made in the past in various places.

    But it was possible to eradicate the virus, as has been done before with others, and will surely be done again. Maybe it still is possible, but it’s getting more doubtful. Certainly herd immunity has never seemed viable much like with regular flu.

    For all the gloom I find the future has never been more interesting.

Every time I see that headline, I need to read it twice. I am still seeing “The Defecation of Jacinda”.

‘the fact is she is a genuinely nice person’ may well be however does that then qualify her to manage a government?
Jacinda is leading an inept government and that government’s redistribution of money via taxes and social programs is nothing short of theft.
The libertarian government she leads believes so strongly in their own virtue that those with opposing views and opinions are regarded as bad people
A problem for groups with a strong belief in their own collective virtue is that their confirmation bias renders them incapable of recognising defects within the group as evidenced with recent ministerial departures and demotions

Sweden has managed COVID-19 without lockdowns and the resulting economic disaster
without face masks, without the need for contact tracing.
Has their approach worked? By and large it has. Have they had Covid deaths yes they have but to bring perspective they have a population of over 2 million people in the over 65 years old demographic compared to New Zealands over 65’s of 800,000 odd
Adern the Magnificent’s bested the virus by political wit!
By the way, she also finds New Zealand’s approach immoral, a selfish demand that the rest of the world bear the burden of herd immunity while Kiwis hide in their homes and surf the Internet. Indeed, interestingly, she regards the New Zealand policy as a violation of the global social contract. Is she conflicted here or just playing follow the leader
But Ardern the Wise didn’t apparently think about what happens after she personally decided to deny her entire population natural immunities to a virus that has otherwise spread all over the world. In a word its called mismanagement. History doesn’t guild the lily!

Bravo Sir Bob – your a national treasure, keep up the good work!

After the euphoria of winning the election. Adern will have to turn her attention to what the country needs, not what the voters want to hear.
Remember Aderm was little more than a 7 year old when we had the 87 crash. So limited will be her ability to comprehend what the economic ramifications of her Govt’s decisions, this last 9 month have born. Already, with the mortgage holiday in place, mortgage defaults, arrears’ at approx 10,000 last month. Unemployment masked by wage subsidy, and covid relief payments.
The “hard and fast nonsense” well and truly dispatched into the realms of history, unlikely to be seen again.
Pray we recover from this wave, and don’t have a third. What would be the answer? Maybe we should try some radical new approach, like flattening the curve? Manage the elderly? Hospitals just have to deal with it? Let’s do this NZ!

Jacinda’s Plan for New Zealand:
1. Get re-elected;
2. Come up with some more cool catchy slogans, then;
3. Fart off to the UN in 2022.

This woman is a moron. Let’s relieve her from her command immediately so that she can pop off to ruin another country

    …now now we can’t be that pragmatic !! …”and that will be enough of the truth as well thank you”.
    Want to know where this country’s heading..?!… News report today announced that a school was put into complete lock-down because a student became abusive…WTF,… these people are TEACHING your children!!!…(be kind at Cindy’s Kindy).
    ….lets face it, C-19 may be mother natures answer to rampant species insanity.

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