James Forsyth in The Times today explores the extent to which political Systems and culture have affected nations’ record in dealing with COVID. The article is remarkable for not mentioning an example of a liberal democracy which has managed COVID better than any other nation but without surrendering the freedoms which lie at the heart of its constitution – New Zealand. Indeed it has actually held a General Election during the crisis. The Kiwis have surely shown that it is not ideology, (Eastern, Western or whatever) which matters, but competence.
New Zealand is culturally the most “British” nation in the world, outside Britain itself, and it is also an island nation. So why have they done better than us ? The demographic and way of life comparisons are precise as is the benefit of not having contiguous borders with any other country. So why have they succeeded whilst we have dramatically and fatally failed?
New Zealand is much smaller in population than the U.K. , and that arguably made it easier. Perhaps – but to apply the same methods and gross them up was perfectly feasible. Closing its borders almost from day one was one of New Zealand’s key decisions. We could have done that , and should have.
My experience of New Zealanders is that they are a no more conformist and regimented a people than Britons are. But they don’t spout on about their freedoms much, they don’t need to. There is no equivalent of our Hard Right know-alls opining about the need for libertarianism or “freedom of choice”. There are no petty nationalists or anti-maskers. When Arron Banks visited the country before their election to try and stir things up he got nowhere. His preferred Faragist party got one percent of the vote. The Kiwis manage to be proud of their country without being nationalist xenophobes.
But ultimately it’s about leadership, consistency and doing the right thing. Jacinda Ardern gave that leadership and made the right choices. She is no more medically qualified than Boris Johnson but unlike him she listened to those who are and followed their advice. Even in an election year she did not surrender to populism, and the electorate instead of taking to the streets gave her overwhelming support and re-elected her in a landslide. An important part of this was Ms Ardern’s communication skills – she told the people the truth and was believed. And if you believe a leader you’ll do what they say.
It is true that some cultures are more respectful of authority than others and that authoritarian governments can sometimes enforce policies more easily than those with democratic checks and balances. But New Zealand surely tells us that a democratic state can get things right with competent, credible leadership. And that a predominately Anglo-Saxon and Celtic nation can protect its people rather better than Britain has.