“I was in two minds about accepting this acknowledgment,” says the now Dame Jacinda Ardern, reflecting on how “humbled” she feels to receive the Dame Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. “For me this is a way to say thank you — to my family, to my colleagues, and to the people who supported me to take on the most challenging and rewarding role of my life.”
Rewarding, eh? Note Dame J’s use of the world “acknowledgment” — rather than, say, honor — a deft nod to her republicanism. It also, with less subtlety, reveals a certain arrogance. Is it really “humbling” to be merely “acknowledged?” Cockburn thinks not.
Ardern has come a long way. As leader of New Zealand’s Labour Party, when campaigning to be prime minister in 2017, she suggested, albeit tentatively, that she would be quite happy ditching Queen Elizabeth as head of state, which presumably would mean scrapping the fusty (albeit updated) Commonwealth honors system, too.
“I am a republican but you will find there are people in New Zealand who aren’t actively pursuing that change,” she said at the time. “It’s certainly not about my view of the monarchy but my view of New Zealand’s place in the world and carving out our own future. So that is what drives my sentiment.”
Of course, nominally republican politicians have a funny habit of dropping their values when the royal accolades come gonging in. Jacinda has already joined the board of trustees of Prince William’s Earthshot prize for the environment, so perhaps the Grand Order of Merit was only a matter of time.
She persisted with a zero-Covid strategy long after it became clear that zero-Covid made no sense
Her grandness is being “acknowledged,” it should be said, not directly by King Charles but by the New Zealand government, which has praised her “leadership during periods of intense challenge” — notably the Covid pandemic and the Christchurch terrorist attack in 2019.
Her response to the latter was, it is still widely agreed, impressive. As to the former, however, doubts continue to grow. Arden shut down New Zealand for the best part of two years and ensured what she called her “team of 5 million” — the population of the country — were stuck in their houses for extraordinarily long periods of time. She persisted with a zero-Covid strategy long after it became clear that zero-Covid made no sense. And she left office with New Zealand’s debt levels at astronomical highs, a recession imminent, and little else to brag about.
Her critics used to refer to her, sarcastically, as “Saint Jacinda” — thanks to the worldwide acclaim she received as a telegenic center-left woman battling against the forces of extremism. For now, we’ll all just have to settle for Dame.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.