Every time I read another excitable media article about New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern, I am reminded of an old quip: ‘Viewed from a distance, everything is beautiful.’ That was Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56-120). Were this Roman intellectual and historian alive today, he would make a great columnist. His tactic was to spin political and historical analogies so they could influence public affairs back home.
Tacitus’s Germania, for example, was about framing the Germanic tribes as a noble culture so that his Roman compatriots would recognise their own society as corrupt and decadent in contrast. The only problem was that Tacitus had never crossed the Rhine. That did not matter much: most Romans had not travelled far north either.
That is happening again, except this time New Zealanders are the noble savages being lovingly invented by global columnists. Hardly any of these writers actually live in New Zealand or understand it. Their op-eds reveal more about them than the country they purport to write about. In normal circumstances, this would not be a problem. But over the past few years, Jacinda Ardern has risen to international stardom. Her rise was based on remote reporting by a progressive world media thirsting for a noble alternative to strongmen leaders.
Anyone wishing for an anti-Trump, an anti-Johnson or an anti-Bolsonaro could not dream up a more suitable figure than Ardern. If she did not exist, she would have to be invented. She ticks all the boxes. As a young woman who became prime minister at the age of 37, she is one of the world’s first millennial heads of government. She is only the second world leader to give birth in office (the first was Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan).
Ardern’s political tenure is soaked in progressive holy water. The list of her adopted causes is long. She cited child poverty as her reason for entering politics. When she first ran for prime minister in 2017, she declared climate change her ‘generation’s nuclear free moment’. In early 2019, she promised in the Financial Times to champion a new ‘economics of kindness’. This was demonstrated shortly afterwards in the world’s first ‘well-being budget’.
Ardern has become the media’s poster child of a modern, centre-left politician, not least thanks to her expertise in communicating to every audience. Whether it is a Facebook Live broadcast from her home in her pyjamas or a traditional press conference, Ardern oozes a highly personalized brand of warmth, kindness and empathy.
This PR dexterity helped her steer through two major first-term crises. She found the right words to heal a shocked nation after a terrorist attack on the Christchurch Muslim community in March 2019. Last year, her near-daily TV appearances guided Kiwis through the first months of the coronavirus crisis.
For people watching from afar and sick of dealing with mortal, flawed and ineffective leaders, Ardern’s superheroine star shines bright. As the psychologist Jonathan Haidt revealed in The Righteous Mind, we wish for things to be true, and no amount of counter-evidence will change our minds. Ardern is lucky that humans have this mental bug because on practically every single metric her administration has failed.
She wanted to solve New Zealand’s housing crisis by building 100,000 homes over a decade. This unworkable state-run program was abandoned after two years, and house prices have skyrocketed faster than before. A promised light-rail connection from Auckland’s central business district to the airport met the same fate: the project was scrapped before it even started. Child poverty also rose under Ardern’s leadership, as did carbon emissions. The so-called ‘wellbeing budget’ earmarked funds to fix mental health — but has still not found any projects on which to spend the money.
Even in the two major crises, actual policy implementation differed immensely from the PR-shaped perception. A gun buyback scheme after the Christchurch attack was a costly fiasco. And the country’s success against Covid-19 was more a result of geography than policy. The government failed to manage even basic quarantine facilities.
In the 2020 election campaign, Ardern should have struggled to explain why her grand promises had so utterly failed. Except no one demanded any accountability, and Ardern cruised to an absolute majority based on her saintly image. Ordinary Kiwis, unused to being the global centre of attention, also desperately want this internationalist narrative to be true.
The gap between people’s impression of Ardern and her actual performance as a leader has widened to a gulf. So long as enough modern Tacituses write gushing Ardern portraits, her superstar status will not change.
Remember when we heard that Green MP Golriz Ghahraman was allegedly a prosecutor of war criminals, and then it turned out that she was the opposite, actually working on the defence of a convicted war criminal and genocidaire?
It seems de rigueur for Green MPs to embellish their CVs in an attempt to boost their left wing credentials.
The one thing that really grinds my gears about the younger Green MPs is their tendency to spin their life stories to make them sound far more of an oppressed struggle or less affluent than they really are.
Golriz Ghahraman, of course, has been caught out more times than I can count, and the closest Chloe Swarbrick ever got to poverty in Papua New Guinea was the occasional glimpse through the compound fence of the help.
And then there’s Ricardo Menendez March. Last week we heard from this new MP as he defamed Bob Jones in parliament during his maiden speech. He described an interesting back story. I wondered if anyone in the media had bothered to check it out, or had they just accepted that it was true?
Ricardo Menéndez March is something of an enigma in that for a public figure it is quite difficult to find out details about his life other than him being a gay Mexican (as he likes to remind people constantly), his ostentatious poverty action work, his time as a professional student and the ten years he spent as a projectionist at a boutique independent cinema.
It is almost as if someone has gone to a lot of trouble to keep his past ambiguous. The closest thing to a detailed biography can be found in this interview here, Crave Café being a popular Auckland hangout for charitable hipsters and woke minor celebrities.
Specifically, the following:
‘The house I spent most of my years in Tijuana was less than 200m from the border—a couple of blocks away,’ Ricardo says. ‘You don’t really realise how weird it is to grow up in a city like that.
‘There was a park on the other side of the fence and families would meet for picnics with the fence dividing them. You could see through the fence and you could almost touch each others’ hands. That was closed down and now it’s pretty much impossible to meet.
‘What happens when you grow up in a city like Tijuana is that [the wall] is like a piece of furniture. This is how I managed to not be aware of what it meant at a political level. But it does shape who you are. It shapes your identity and your daily routine.’
Ricardo came to NZ as a student in 2006, but quickly discovered how expensive it is to live here as an international university undergrad. His father, a medical doctor, had invested almost all his savings to give Ricardo a chance—what Ricardo describes as a ‘traditional Mexican immigrant story of carving out a slightly more prosperous life and helping out your family back home.’
But Ricardo was forced to find work. He got jobs in hospitality for a few years, became a NZ resident, went back to uni to finish his studies, and then entered politics. Once he was there, he wished he had done it sooner.
In fairness to Ricardo, most of this is technically true. His family house was indeed less than 200m from the border… in the upmarket beach suburb of Playas de Tijuana in the western part of the city. Playas is sometimes called Playami, punning on Miami, because it’s popular with well-heeled San Diegans. The park is Border Field California State Park. So far, so aesthetic.
If you look less than 200m from the border you find that this suburb is the only one close to the park/border.
And if you look even closer you will see rather large houses complete with swimming pools.
Ricardo’s father is indeed a doctor. Not, as might be inferred from his description, some charitable GP treating ringworm and scrofula in the barrio in exchange for the occasional plate of empanadas from some grateful abuela, but prominent Tijuana psychiatrist Dr Ricardo Menéndez Barquín.
From the photo above taken from the driveway, we can see a distinctive red roof, a power pole and three palms. A look on Google Maps easily identifies the same location:
And the reverse of that shows the same gate as the driveway picture with the spiked top edge, the side entrance and the large wall surrounding the property.
Ricardo may not have had a swimming pool but several of his neighbours did.
But, let us not snigger too hard at the vision of young Ricardo scraping together his pennies from his activism and movie projecting to send remittance back to an apparently comfortably-off suburban mental health practitioner.
Now why would you consider any of that something to be ashamed of?
I mean, yes, it does make it slightly more difficult to berate middle class New Zealanders for their privilege when you are upper middle class yourself, but it would at least be honest.
A good look through Ricardo’s social media accounts suggests that this poor boy from the barrios is actually the opposite.
For someone who has professed he was hard up and living in poverty he still could afford to make trips back to Mexico. December 2017, Dec/Jan 2019 and July 2019.
On a Facebook post in December 2017 he said it was the first time in two years that he’d made it back to Mexico. He went back in 2015 before he got his citizenship in 2017.
In 2019 he posted a bit more information:
Which is very interesting because in 2016 he wrote that he had been back to Mexico for the four previous years.
So, just to recap, the impoverished Ricardo Menendez March, working in a “precarious hospitality minimum wage job” managed to scrape enough pesos together to travel back to Mexico in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, then 2017, 2018 and 2019. That’s more overseas trips than most Kiwis have had in a lifetime, yet whilst in a “precarious hospitality minimum wage job”, he has managed at least seven overseas trips in the peak holiday season when fares are most expensive.
All this seems to reveal is a deeply cynical streak in young Ricardo that he is prepared to play to New Zealanders assumptions of Mexican poverty and squalor rather than just acknowledge his own privileged upbringing.
It’s ironic that he chooses Sir Bob Jones to be his anti-immigrant bogeyman when Sir Bob is vocally pro-immigration, and, unlike Ricardo, actually knows what it’s like to grow up poor.
So, it seems that far from an impoverished and precarious lifestyle he has in fact had a pretty good childhood, living in an affluent suburb, the son of a prominent psychiatrist.
All it took was a few short moments on Facebook and Google Maps to establish that Ricardo Menendez March is not all that he seems. Perhaps he might like to come clean, starting with an apology to Bob Jones and telling the truth about his upbringing.
So Ardern told us she’ll get kiwi kids out of poverdy. Past 12 months, 2000 more kids living in material hardship and 1100 more in severe material hardship. Seems she’s more interested in virtue signalling, so desperate for headlines.
So, the climate emergency.
I know that you’ll probably expect me to be critical of the Prime Minister’s plans to announce a climate emergency next week
But I’m actually not going to criticise it.
Because I can see why Jacinda Ardern is doing it. Jacinda, as we all know, has made a very big deal of the fact that she is a global climate warrior
We all remember the time when she declared climate change is the nuclear free moment of her generation
But of course, we all know she’s actually not done anything.
Her government passed the Zero Carbon Act which is nice but won’t do much.
They brought farmers into the ETS but at such a discounted rated that, again, won’t do much.
And her government has banned offshore oil and gas exploration which, again, sounds nice but will probably lead to us just importing the stuff and thus having a bigger footprint.
So what do you do if you want the world to think you’re a climate warrior but you don’t actually plan to do anything about the climate?
You declare a climate emergency.
Because you just have to say it, you don’t actually have to do anything.
That’s what’s happened with the councils around the country.
Just look at Dunedin City Council and Central Otago District Council. Both of them have declared climate emergencies but they are both among the least energy efficient councils in the country.
But it doesn’t really matter, because there are gullible voters up and down this country who probably vote Green and who will lap this up and forget to check back in a year to see if anything has really been done, and there are progressives around the world who will take note of this and be impressed.
Now the thing is, here at Newstalk ZB Drive, we also see the value in pumping up our green credentials without having to do anything.
So I hereby declare this a Newstalk ZB Drive climate emergency
And I’d to welcome you to the first edition of the climate friendlier Drive show, and welcome to all our new green listeners.
As much as I like Grant Robertson, and I do, if you ever had any doubt that this government is hopelessly out of its depth economically, Robertson’s letter to Adrian Orr should confirm it.
“Dear Adrian, have you seen the price of a house? My god, it’s through the roof. What can we do, Adrian? We’ve banged on and on and on about prices being out of control, in opposition we bagged the government mercilessly, we promised to do something about it, but that blew up in our face. Who knew Phil Twyford was so useless? Anyway Adrian, it seems I’m now stuck, given I am in charge of all the money and the prices are still going up.
It was suggested to me that your monetary policy might be to blame, so given that suits my political agenda, I am writing to you today to blame you. Adrian, it’s not good enough and you must do something about it. Don’t ask me what, but please, please, please can you make the price of a house go down.
But, and this a big but Adrian, while you’re at it can you not sink the economy? The economy is already in trouble and let’s not mention how much of that money you’ve printed for me. And I know I added employment to the list of stuff you had to take care of with the OCR, as well as inflation of course, but Adrian have you seen the price of a house!”
So, in essence what Robertson is doing, is dropping Orr in it for political purposes. They have flooded the economy with money, they want people to borrow, but given they haven’t created an environment of confidence business isn’t borrowing. The only ones who are, are those who want a house.
Go figure, who saw that coming? Apart from about everyone who has ever bought a house.
Orr as much as he is taking heat, can only do so much. He’s not in control of everything.
The man who has more control than Orr is Robertson. And he’s panicking because he made a promise on housing he couldn’t keep, and he’s been caught with his pants down.
The lesson here, as we have said, god knows, how many times, is politicians don’t control housing. Never have, never will.
Stop getting sucked in. And if you insist on getting sucked in, stop blaming others for your inability to understand the market.
There comes a time in every successful politician’s career when their Twitter accounts are ruthlessly trawled through by a combination of political activists, bemused bystanders and, yes, bored journalists.
Somehow it’s taken three years for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to experience the same treatment. Over the past few days, Twitter has been alight with decade-old commentary by then-Labour backbencher Ardern, with many making the charge of hypocrisy in resurfacing Ardern critiques of John Key’s Government for a perceived lack of action on issues like social welfare and the environment.
What’s interesting about this recent online excavation movement is that most of the tweet diggers are on the left. Not exclusively, though: David Seymour’s in on the game, too.
In recent days, the Prime Minister has also been upbraided online for the repeated “ruling out” of key issues, dating back to her decision to rule out a capital gains tax for the entirety of her tenure as New Zealand’s leader.
Just yesterday, Ardern pinned it on the entire country, saying that, in fact, “New Zealanders ruled it out”.
“We campaigned on it several times, and we just couldn’t bring New Zealanders with us,” she said.
But when it comes to her own tweet archive, here are nine posts that Jacinda Ardern might now be regretting (presented in no particular order).
‘The gaffe man!’
This tweet of Ardern’s has taken on much higher significance since both she and Boris Johnson ascended to the leaders of their respective countries. It also seems to resurface in tabloid UK media at least once a year.
‘For the love of..’
In a week where the skyrocketing price of Auckland houses has made countless headlines, this 2015 tweet from Ardern seems especially pointed.
‘Comprehensive housing plan’
Megan Woods, October 5 2020: “Labour has a comprehensive housing plan.”
As one tweet response to this simply says, “Lol. Has not aged well”.
‘A shortage in some areas’
Same as above, really. Awks.
This one is presented without comment.
‘Like hearing a drug addict lecture an alcoholic’
‘The future of the St James Theatre’
I have still never stepped foot in Auckland’s St James Theatre. At this stage, I expect I never will.
Last year, Sky News ran an “exclusive” story revealing Ardern’s true views on controversial Australian broadcaster Alan Jones. Turns out, it was this tweet likely uncovered by a tired Sky intern.
Twyford v English
Nice to see Phil Twyford get a mention six years back.