Ardern and the ‘COVID election’

In her speech launching Labour’s election campaign Jacinda Ardern emphasised it being ‘a COVID election’ – her published speech notes emphasised COVID (in capitals), mentioning it fifteen times. She also referred to a much promoted pandemic phrase ‘team of 5 million’ five times.

She and Labour chose to campaign on one of Ardern’s strengths, crisis her management skills, but also to use the pandemic as a focal point of their campaign. This is smart politics, but it is also cynical use of a crisis for political purposes.

I don’t believe conspiracy theorists suggesting that the Covid outbreak this week was a political set up, but Ardern and Labour have merged it with their campaign.

Ardern has emphasised that politics is inextricably intertwined with the Government and Ministry of Health Covid response.

She is insisting her governing right to front Covid media conferences, which gives her a considerable campaign publicity advantage – she fronted two media conferences that would have had great public interest yesterday.

This could be to her and Labour’s significant campaign advantage, but it has it’s risks.

Ardern’s Labour Speech: Labour Campaign Launch 2020 included:

Thank you for all your work over these last few months, which has made this gathering possible. In a COVID world, our team of 5 million has been a steady ship and I am so grateful for that.

Whether it was March 15, or Whakaari White Island, or even COVID-19 – these three entirely different events that devastated in very different ways – they drew out a response from kiwis that was the same.

They applauded Ardern’s handling of them.

Some have asked me whether this is the COVID election.

No one wants it to be.

Yet she has embraced it as her prime means of self promotion.

And so yes, there is no denying that COVID has changed New Zealand, and therefore it will inevitably change what we talk about this election.

And there is a lot to talk about.

There wasn’t a playbook for COVID-19. That means there was no pre-written plan for how a country should respond to a one in one hundred year global pandemic. But respond we did.

COVID has undoubtedly created many friends for us to worry about, and we know there are tough times ahead.

Our team of 5 million’s approach to fighting COVID means there is huge willingness in our business community to avoid unemployment rising by taking on new staff where they can, but many just need a little bit of extra support which this package provides.

It will act as a strong incentive to support those who have been hit the hardest by COVID, and provide additional support to businesses who might not otherwise be in the position to take someone on long-term.

It will act as a strong incentive to support those who have been hit the hardest by COVID, and provide additional support to businesses who might not otherwise be in the position to take someone on long-term.

Ultimately though, there is no costless response to COVID, but Grant Robertson’s excellent management of the books means we went into COVID with lower debt relative to GDP than almost any other OECD nation, and look to come out in a better position than Australia, the UK, Canada and the US.

And so, when people ask, is this a COVID election, my answer is yes, it is.

But that does not mean that there aren’t still choices to be made. It does not mean there aren’t ideas to be debated, or plans to be discussed, policies to be announced.

In fact, it’s the very reason why this is election is more important than ever.

It’s about the future. It’s about leadership and it’s about values.

It’s about whether we stop and change to another team, or whether we keep those we know and we trust.

Ardern has emphasised that politics is inextricably intertwined with the Government and Ministry of Health Covid response.

She is insisting her governing right to front Covid media conferences, which gives her a considerable campaign publicity advantage – she fronted two media conferences that would have had great public interest yesterday.

She is getting extraordinary publicity this week over the new outbreak, which is frustrating other parties who have had to suspend their campaigns due to newly imposed lockdowns.

While Ardern withdrew from regular Covid media conferences over the past couple of months she is fronting them again now big time, and insisting she has a right as Prime Minister to do this right up to the election despite protests by political opponents.

This could be to her and Labour’s considerable campaign advantage – not that Labour needs it, they are currently well out in front – ,but it has it’s risks.

If Covid turns to custard here, and if the election goes ahead as planned next month, Ardern and Labour could suffer a backlash. If there is too much bad news expect Ardern to distance herself and leave the delivery of that to Ashley Bloomfield and Chris Hipkins again.

But for now Covid gives Ardern a huge advantage, and she is using that for all it’s currently worth.