This piece was first published in the New Zealand Herald.
Jacinda Ardern was an already familiar figure in Britain by the time she concluded the NZ-UK trade deal with Boris Johnson last week. It’s not often that a New Zealand Prime Minister becomes a global celebrity, but Ardern’s handling of the Covid pandemic put her at the forefront of international politics.
As a pollster, I wanted to find out how far the worldwide praise for Ardern is echoed at home – and as a former Deputy Chairman of the UK Conservatives during their long years in the wilderness, to understand what this means for the National Party opposition.
I found strong support for Ardern’s decision to lockdown “fast and hard”, and appreciation across the political spectrum for her ability to speak for and to the country in a crisis. But after sluggish vaccine rollout and signs that the world is returning to business as usual, an unmistakable feeling of frustration with the Government’s strategy had begun to set in.
The move away from a “zero Covid” policy is no doubt partly an acknowledgement of that growing weariness.
Even so, Ardern dominates the scene and remains far and away the country’s most popular political figure. National, meanwhile – like the Tories while they endured the glory years of Tony Blair – have appeared divided and demoralised.