New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has won an unprecedented victory in the general elections, which comes as an endorsement by the people of her policies, in particular regarding the battle against Covid-19. Also much appreciated was her response to the infamous Christchurch mosque attack in March, 2019, which ensured communal amity. Even deeper, though, has been a contest between the left and right, which has a global context. Even as the traditional left parties around the world have succumbed to the lures of radical agendas, New Zealand’s Labour Party under Ardern has stuck by classical liberalism, most similar to that of the North European countries. This has paid off in an environment where ordinary folk have been concerned about rising prices, particularly of real estate, and the willingness of the section represented by the National Party to allow big money to have its way in the country. This is especially so in the context of Chinese companies and well-to-do immigrants ‘taking over’.
How far the liberal agenda has succeeded will become known when the results on a referendum on legalisation of marijuana and euthanasia become known. If these are accepted, New Zealand will be well on the way to becoming, for many, a veritable ‘heaven on earth’. Although, New Zealand is too small and quite isolated a country to become a role model for more diverse and larger nations, the coming years under Ardern will be a test of how far classical liberalism can succeed in the emerging global economy. As, at best, a ‘satellite economy’, it is in the future dealings with Australia and China that will be the true test of Ardern’s feel good approach.
For the present, there are lessons to be learned for the left in other places from her policies. She also represented the best of traditional and conservative values, rather than embracing the extreme attitudes that alienate the common people. Be it Jeremy Corbyn in the UK or Bernie Sanders in the US, the embrace of extreme positions and the close-minded rejection of even the most commonsensical beliefs of the ‘others’ has allowed the rise of leaders such as Ben Johnson and Donald Trump. No matter how seemingly erudite or well argued their positions, people have not been convinced they would take society in the right direction. Had it not been for Covid-19, Trump would have been a shoo-in for a second term. India’s so-called ‘secular’ parties, too, need to reinvent themselves, before trying to rescue India from the BJP.