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All things change. Nations, sporting teams, individuals. All have a time of ascent, and, in time, of decline. Their time on the stage, in the spotlight - however brightly they shone, gone. A new generation in their place.
We see it on this day, in what still sounds strange, King’s Birthday. A celebration of a different, distant monarch. So, happy first pretend birthday, King Charles. I’m not sure if we got you anything. It seems like maybe you got enough this year already, with a whole empire, and palaces, and everything gold. What else could you want?
It still feels odd after so many years with the Queen, to say things like King’s Birthday. Maybe there will be some positive aspects to the change, after all the pomposity dies down. Charlie seems like an OK bloke, all things considered. With his Green credentials it seems appropriate to have his pretend birthday on this, the same day as Arbor Day and World Environment Day.
The Monarch’s Birthday, so often the first real cold snap of the year. Sounds like it is going to be a chilly week.
Last Wednesday when we saw Ashley Bloomfield receive his knighthood I found myself similarly thinking of the end of an era. These last few years with Covid have been tumultuous. Their impact economically, socially, and politically will be with us for years. Whatever sequels bring, it feels like the credits are rolling on this one.
There he was, our Ashley, a smart new haircut and looking a tad nervous. When he received the award our Governor General, Cindy Kiro, spoke to him. They looked like caring supportive words, none of us knew. I’d love to know what she said.
As she was speaking to Dr Bloomfield I found myself thinking that among so many awful things happening in the world, what a lovely moment it was. But inevitably thinking that it felt like the “lovely moments” were drawing to a close. That there might be fewer in future. I do feel optimism, but thoughts of dark days ahead are lurking.
Still, time to reflect once more on just how lucky we have been through this momentous period in history, and that it wasn’t by accident.
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Yesterday I read about events in the UK during that period. The idiotic idea, which their current PM, Rishi Sunak, supported as Chancellor (what we call the the Finance Minister), of encouraging people to dine out to support the economy. They called it Eat Out to Help Out, a move widely criticised by doctors and scientists.
Can you imagine Dr Ashley, or Jacinda, or Grant, or Chippy rocking up to the podium during Covid to say “look guys things are looking a bit better, so now is the time to get out and enjoy some hospitality, on us, and keep the sector going”. We did have voices suggesting similar here, but fortunately they weren’t in power.
As you can imagine the consequences in the UK were as dire as they were predictable.
Eat Out to Help Out was launched in August 2020. It allowed diners to claim 50% off more than 160m meals at a cost to the Treasury of about £850m. In the process, it also drove new Covid-19 infections up by between 8 and 17%, according to a study carried out by Thiemo Fetzer, an economist at the University of Warwick, a few weeks later.
Prof John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a member of the Sage committee of advisers to ministers - “They never said: ‘Here’s the strategy, what do you think of it?’ That’s not how it worked and that is why it’s always been so misleading for the government to pretend that it was following science. That’s just nonsense.”
“If we had [been consulted], I would have been clear what I thought about it,” said Edmunds. “As far as I am concerned, it was a spectacularly stupid idea and an obscene way to spend public money.”
This morning I read that The Right Honourable Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern is receiving the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the State. Dame Grand Companion. It really is a changing of the guard, there could be no stronger confirmation of the end of her political career.
Jacinda released a short written statement about the award:
So many of the things we went through as a nation over the last five years were about all of us rather than one individual.
But I have heard that said by so many Kiwis who I have encouraged to accept an honour over the years. And so 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.
I can’t fault that, it only seems right. The future does concern me though.
I worry about a change in government. I know the current one hasn’t been perfect, they’ve been mocked for over ambitious promises - Kiwi Build comes to mind. A hundred thousand houses? What were they thinking?
But look what they have done - 16,676 houses, including over 10,000 state homes! That is a damn sight more than the opposition would have delivered, any way you look at it.
Pretty much every decent piece of legislation in our history. Be it workers rights, or every minority group in our society that have had their rights improved - it’s all been the left.
From the state investment under Savage, the sensible strengthening of it under Clark and Cullen, the bravery to be independent and stand up to larger powers from Lange and Kirk, through to the incredible performances of Jacinda and Grant.
Normally we have a fairly predictable cycle of two or three terms of Labour, when we make some progress. Then two or three terms of National where we take a bit of a step backwards. I’m talking about things like advancing socials issues, improving poverty and housing, and addressing historic injustices and the current inequality of Māori.
It feels like it’s always two steps forward, then one step backwards. We still make progress - but gee it could be a bit faster. The reason I’m so concerned is ACT.
A National/ACT government is a very different beast than National alone. ACT represents the very worst of our society - greed, selfishness, a disregard for others - attributes we don’t normally like to think of as being “Kiwi”.
A government where ACT had significant power wouldn’t be one step backwards, or even two. I genuinely think it would take this country back decades. People would really suffer. Those doing it hard would would find their lives harder still, just so some that are already doing well can do even better. Don’t we learn when we’re children that that level of selfishness is just unacceptable?
I remain optimistic that this won’t occur, that there will be a kinder government returned in October than some of the polls suggest. But whatever happens later in the year, I think it is only appropriate that we reflect on those who have given so much. Those who used their time so well when it was their time, and to be grateful.
No doubt the recognition of Jacinda’s service will be met with derision and even hate by some people. I feel sorry for them. If they can’t find gratitude in what people like Ashley Bloomfield and Jacinda Ardern have done for this country and our people, it must be a bloody miserable life - especially for those around them.
For the rest it is a case of thank you Jacinda and thank you Ashley. You did us proud and you deserve these honours bestowed on you. Your time in those roles is done now, but we won’t forget.
And happy pretend birthday to Charlie. I hope if he receives anything this year that it is reconciliation with his son. That would be better than all the gold in the world.
Paul Ubana Jones was the first musician I ever saw live on a big stage, it was the summer of 1988/89. Here he is singing in Titirangi.