Remember Jacinda Ardern? The “woke” prime minister of New Zealand was applauded in elite circles for imposing a draconian lockdown in order to pursue a hopeless “zero Covid” policy. She turned her country into a “hermit kingdom” to the point that more than 15,000 New Zealanders were trapped abroad and not allowed to return for two years. In some cases, children weren’t allowed to see parents on their deathbed. Ardern finally had to abandon her maniacal stance as Covid began to spread throughout the island.
Ardern had other crazy policies, including a mad 20-year plan for government power in New Zealand to be shared 50–50 with the native Maori population, a largely mixed-race group that is at most 16 percent of the population.
Ardern’s political descent was gradual, but it began to accelerate last year. A sure sign she had peaked came when behind-the-curve Harvard University invited her to give last year’s commencement address. Fawning media coverage (the Financial Times breathlessly proclaimed, “Arise, Saint Jacinda!”) over her “daring” authoritarian methods during the pandemic faded as the stupidity of “zero Covid” became obvious. The public realized that she had isolated the country and hurt the nation’s economy. In January, she suddenly resigned her office, claiming that she “no longer had enough in the tank to do the job justice.” The reality was that her approval ratings were plummeting, and she took the opportunity to retreat to a cushy fellowship at Harvard.
On Saturday, Ardern’s Labour Party was decimated at the polls, receiving only 27 percent of the vote. As the Washington Post reports: “New Zealand moved sharply to the right on Saturday with the National Party, led by businessman-turned-politician Christopher Luxon, poised to form a coalition with the libertarian ACT Party and make good on promises to cut government spending and taxes.”
Neale Jones, a former top staffer for Ardern, put his finger on what caused Labour’s loss. “Every time [voters] have turned on the television or listened to the radio, the government has been tied up in some controversy about something that was irrelevant to their lives,” Jones told the Australian Financial Review. “People were struggling, they couldn’t pay for the groceries, they couldn’t fill the car up, and the government had a whole bunch of reform programs that seemed totally unrelated to their lives.”
A similar dynamic was in play in this past weekend’s election in Australia, where voters dealt with a referendum that would have enshrined in Australia’s constitution a vaguely defined mechanism dubbed “The Voice,” meant as a method for Aboriginal people to advise Parliament on issues that affected their lives. It was defeated in every state except the government-dominated Canberra area, winning only 39 percent of the vote. Critics said it would divide Australians along racial lines and seized on the fact the referendum would have expanded a divisive racially based bureaucracy.
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, an Aboriginal senator from the opposition Liberal Party, also pointed out that Aboriginal people already have a higher representation in the country’s parliament than their 3 percent share of the population. She slammed the pro-referendum forces as a government-funded “industry” with roots in a culture of grievance: “If we keep telling Aboriginal people that they are victims, we are effectively removing their agency and giving them the expectation that someone else is responsible for their lives,” she said during a Q & A after her recent speech at the National Press Club. “That is the worst possible thing you can do to any human being, to tell them that they are a victim without agency.”
American progressives have often pointed to political developments in Australia and New Zealand as harbingers of the future — if these events are in accord with their world view. But they have been strangely silent since the most recent polling results Down Under. Do they fear that they may signal that “peak woke” has been reached in two English-speaking democracies and that a similar anti-woke backlash could spread to the United States?
John Fund is the national political reporter for National Review. Wendell Cox is an economic and demographic analyst who has worked with David Seymour, the head of the libertarian ACT Party in New Zealand.
This commentary originally appeared here.
Link to David Seymour’s Frontier publications and work here.