Colin James: An Easter message on democracy

Colin James: An Easter message on democracy

Jacinda Ardern had two Easter messages last week. One was that the Easter bunny was an essential service, which got star billing in the Washington Post and elsewhere across the world. The other was a democracy lesson.

In her briefing the Thursday before Easter, Ardern talked at length of how “you” were doing well, observing distancing rules, staying in “bubbles”, keeping people safe. “You have done it for each other.”

Ardern did talk of “we” the government, taking decisions and actions and enforcing rules.

But she was not just talking down to “you” from her high office. She seamlessly blended that “we”-“you” into “we”-“all of us”.

The government had powers, she said, “but you held the greatest power of all. You made the decision that together we could protect one another.”

She talked of signposts, “to know where we are and exactly what we need to do when we get there so we can all plan”. To run the “marathon” “we must all run together”.

“I know we can do this … because we are already.”

She talked of sacrifice everyone had made “to get us here”.

“We protect one another”, “we all plan”, “we all run together”, everyone’s sacrifice for “us”: Ardern’s “we” and “you” were one.

Recall from the day of the Christchurch massacre: “They are us.” Ardern’s Easter message was: “We are you.”

That is what a democracy is cracked up to be: “we” all engage and so do all the “you” around us, so that “we” together are a collective running “our” show.

That is a biblical message, the golden rule: treat others as you want them to treat you; love your neighbour as yourself.

Contrast the message we mostly get from everyday politics and some of the lockdown politics of others than Ardern: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

That non-biblical politics is winners and losers, power over others, not with others. Opposing parties are outsiders, the enemy: “They are not us.”

Easter is a biblical occasion. Ardern was on key.


Colin James is a political journalist of nearly 50 years’ experience. He is the author of eight books, including 2017’s Unquiet Time: Aotearoa/New Zealand in a Fast Changing World.

Photo: Kirk Hargreaves / CC BY