The elite readily accepted authoritarian rule, until their own political interests were at stake
OPINION: We’ve eliminated Covid-19. According to some experts our Government’s actions have saved tens of thousands of lives. We trudge back to the office — those of us who still have jobs — as the rest of the world continues to battle the virus.
But at what cost? And to what degree has the reception of the measures taken been politicised?
Our liberties have been restricted, businesses and jobs have been lost, milestones and events missed; we quite literally shut the country down. But, despite reservations and differences of opinion regarding lockdown, we put our trust in our Government and complied with each curtailment of our freedoms.
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The extraordinary ability of our prime minister to communicate calmness and engender trust has led to most Kiwis readily accepting increasingly authoritarian measures. Among the most vocal supporters of even the alert level 2 legislation which allowed for warrantless searches by police — virtually at will — have been the chattering classes.
That is, the ultra-liberal, middle-class, educated elites who are highly politically and socially engaged. While there are exceptions, the educated elite won’t have been as heavily affected by the lockdown. They’ve been more likely to work from home and this means they don’t face the financial devastation much of the working class do.
Nevertheless, their voices have been loud in insisting on the strictest of measures. They’ve condemned those who dared to have gatherings of more than the permitted 10 and shamed those on social media who have questioned the actions being taken by our Government. They’ve insisted that even the slightest deviation from Government commands (or indeed any kind of expressed dissent) is tantamount to wishing death on vulnerable populations.
That’s why when they advocated and cheered for a mass breach of alert level 2 restrictions against groups of more than 100 gathering, there was outrage from other New Zealanders. This isn’t a question of whether the murder of George Floyd and the violence of American police are worthy of marching against, because in my opinion they certainly are. It’s a question of whether marching en masse was appropriate and safe regardless of the cause at this time.
If the restrictions on our freedoms were vital to our collective health and crucial in order to save lives, the marches in New Zealand were reckless, dangerous, and deserving of condemnation. On the other hand, if the mass gatherings were so benign as to have been no threat then the restrictions were unnecessary impingements on our rights. Both cannot be true.
It raises the question of whether their ardent support for Government restrictions was limited to the confines of their own political interests. Funerals/tangi, dying loved ones, and the birth of children weren’t acceptable reasons to breach restrictions, but a political march (apparently) was.
This demonstrates a lack of insight into the realities of the lives of a huge number of New Zealanders and how priorities have shifted to focus more tightly than ever on one’s own family/whanau and their immediate needs.
The degree to which political partisanship can be viewed as responsible for the chattering classes’ authoritarian fervour can also be weighed by considering how the Government measures would have been received had they come from the mouth of John Key, Bill English, or Simon Bridges. I have serious doubts that the blind acceptance of the lockdown by the self-imposed moral arbiters of New Zealand would have existed under a National-led government.
With an election approaching the voices of these highly-politicised people will grow louder — as will those of their counterparts on the right. It will be more important than ever to ensure that the narrative of the election isn’t dictated by those who will be least affected by its outcome.
For many voting decisions have become much more personal, not just theoretical. It’s vital that we’re given the respect of being able to hear all perspectives and make decisions with as little interference from the chatterers as possible.
* Ani O’Brien is the spokeswoman for Speak Up for Women New Zealand
Originally published at https://www.stuff.co.nz on June 13, 2020.