COMMENT: Tony Blair's former spokesman and chief strategist praises the New Zealand Prime Minister's performance
Right now, it is possible to click on a link, and check the number of coronavirus cases and deaths, country by country.
When the immediate Covid-19 crisis is over, we can expect similar country by country analysis of who handled it well, who handled it badly, who led well, who led badly.
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There will be conferences, documentaries, books, PhDs and public inquiries galore. For the first time in our lifetime, perhaps ever, we are living through a crisis that has tested the systems, resilience and character of every leader, and every major organisation, in the world. All will be judged.
Of course, the judgment will in part depend on the outcome, not least the death rates. But that is not the only factor. If it were, then people would criticise New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, given the death toll in his state is higher than anywhere else in the United States. Yet many people and politicians around the world have rightly praised his handling of the crisis, so data on death is one among many criteria.
Staying at home in London 23 hours a day, without a direct role to play, I spend much of my time reading about, and watching, different leaders. Until now, Cuomo has been my stand-out crisis manager. I have now found another, and I am now recommending that leaders and teams around the world look at her public presentations, and seek to learn lessons.
Yes, it is a she, namely Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand.
It was after a conference call with a Kiwi film-maker, Steven O'Meagher, discussing a future film project about football, that I decided to take a look myself. "If there was an election tomorrow," he said, "I reckon she'd win every seat. She has put the whole country in lockdown – and I mean lockdown – and because of the way she has conducted herself, and explained it, she has approval ratings for her and the policy that are through the roof."
Of course, New Zealand is a smaller country than the UK or Australia, let alone giants like the US and China. But the principles in leading a country of 5 million through a crisis are the same as leading a country with 10, 20 or 50 times as many. You have to lead.
You have to devise, execute and narrate a strategy. You have to set out difficult choices, make difficult decisions, take the country into your confidence about why you are making them. You have to live by example, and you have to show genuine empathy and understanding for the difficulties your people are facing, and take them with you.
Having now watched all the key moments in Prime Minister Ardern's handling of the crisis, I would say she has scored high marks on all of the above.
Natural empathy has always been a strong point for her. We saw it most notably in her handling of the massacre of 50 Muslims in the Christchurch mosques last March. She did not just get the words and the tone right, not least vowing never to utter the name of the murderer (a name I, for one, cannot recall) but she got the actions right too, promising gun law reforms within 10 days, and delivering them in six.
At the other end of the empathetic scale, could any other leader have stood at a government lectern and talked directly to children about how yes, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny were key workers, but they might not be able to get everywhere because they were so busy in these challenging times?
I wrote recently that "getting the big moments right" was one of the essential ingredients of crisis management. On the Covid crisis, the two biggest moments for Jacinda Ardern came two days apart.
On March 21, when Boris Johnson was still resisting a lockdown for the UK, and he and Donald Trump were sending all manner of mixed messages, she did a broadcast to the nation spelling out the strategy for New Zealand. In this rugby-obsessed nation, unsurprisingly, one of the central messages sounded like something from an All Blacks team talk: "We go hard, we go early."
What she meant was that she wanted to take firm action to stop the spread of the virus during what she called "the window of opportunity" before it really took hold. She set out, and explained in detail, but in clear, simple language, the four stages of Alert, and what each would require both of government and of the population.
Her manner was calm, authoritative and friendly. She focused on the human as much as the economic consequences of the changes that would come as the country went through the different Alert gears. She didn't say "don't panic buy", she explained how the supermarkets, pharmacies and petrol stations would function. She spoke to New Zealanders' sense of themselves – "creative, practical, country-minded", and she ended by urging people to "be strong, be kind, and unite against Covid-19".
Two days later, announcing a raise to alert level 3, and essentially giving the country two days to prepare for the lockdown of alert level 4, she said "we only have 102 cases – but so did Italy once".
Without naming names, she said other countries had chosen not to "go early, go hard", and she was clearly not making the same mistake.
Admitting it would require "the most significant restriction of movement in modern history", she set out how schools, bars, restaurants, cafes, pools, playgrounds and all non-essential business would close.
She said without it New Zealand could see "the greatest loss of life in our history" and she was not prepared to let that happen.
She gave clarity sadly lacking in the UK about who key workers were, and what essential journeys were. In urging people to "stay home, save lives", she thanked them in advance, portraying what they would do as an act of public service almost on a par with those on the healthcare frontline.
She spelled out how the Government would do contact tracing and testing, and insisted that the more rigorous they were now on all fronts, the likelier it was the lockdown could be lifted earlier.
"We will do everything to protect you; I'm asking you to do all you can to protect all of us," she added, with a Kennedyesque touch.
"Be strong and be kind," she said once more, smiling. She took many questions from the media and was smiling again when she was asked if she was scared. "No," she said. "Because we have a plan."
She shared that plan in a way I have never felt the US and UK governments have shared theirs, which has allowed an impression to develop that they are rather making it up as they go along.
New Zealand, accepted, is a lot smaller than the US or the UK. But as of today, they have had just over 1000 cases, and one solitary death.
By any standards, that is pretty remarkable, and my friend Steven is right … so is she.
• Alastair Campbell, an author an consultant strategist, was former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman and chief strategist from 1994-2003.