It would be good to see all political parties out on the streets today, taking people to get vaccinated in the same way they normally take them to vote. The National Party should not be deterred by the date.
It is a year today since an extraordinary election. We went to the polling booth this Saturday last year knowing the Labour Party, or rather Jacinda Ardern, would win, but not how heavily she would win. Labour in its dreams and National in its nightmares, wouldn't have foreseen the scale of it.
Some months earlier the Herald had run an article written for a British audience by Alistair Campbell, famously head of communications for Prime Minister Tony Blair. Campbell wrote glowingly of Ardern's leadership in the pandemic. He said someone in New Zealand had told him, "If an election was held today she would win every seat."
That sounded like hyperbole at the time but it turned out to be prophetic. Labour won the party vote in every seat but Epsom, where National voters split their vote with Act. In every seat that returned a National MP, a pivotal number of National voters ticked Labour to continue governing
Nationwide, Labour won more than 50 per cent of the vote. Every student of New Zealand politics knows how remarkable that is. Many popular Prime Ministers have taken their party close to 50 per cent. National under John Key got 47 per cent in 20011 and 2014. Labour got 48 per cent in the 1987 Rogernomics election. Muldoon came in with 47 per cent in 1975, reversing Norman Kirk's 48 per cent in 1972.
You have to go back 70 years, to 1951, to find a previous government, National, cracking 50 per cent. That was a snap election that followed a showdown with a disruptive union on the waterfront. Last year's election was also held in a crisis.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been compared to war and people unite behind the government in wartime, so much so that elections are usually postponed. It's a pity it wasn't, the Government might have gone hard and early on a vaccination programme had it been facing an election today.
But we did have an election last October and it rewarded the Government with an absolute majority for keeping the virus out of the country. It was an overwhelming endorsement of the elimination strategy and a vote of confidence in Ardern's judgment.
Voters are right to attribute these decisions to a Prime Minister personally. Cabinets do not force a course of action on the person who has to sell it to the public. Ultimately, as
Key has testified, difficult questions come down to the Prime Minister's call.
It is a lonely job but solitary responsibility focuses any good mind very clearly on the right thing to do. The problem for this Prime Minister now is that the elimination strategy remains very popular even though it is no longer working.
The Delta variant has spread under Level 3 restrictions in Auckland and Ardern has said she will not put the city back under Level 4. She hears and reads that small business in Auckland is at breaking point and she knows there is a limit to how long people can be kept at home.
She is pinning all her hopes now on vaccination, which seems to be effective against the Delta variant and sometimes she seems to dare hope it will enable the elimination strategy to be maintained when the borders are opened. That sounds as unrealistic as elimination has always seemed to me, but it's a post-vaccination debate that can wait.
The urgent need now is to get the population vaccinated.
Vaccination is not a silver bullet, it's the only bullet. Medical science has provided no other preventive weapon. The vaccine cannot totally stop infection and transmission of a coronavirus but it is looking pretty good against this one.
Sydney reopened its restaurants, shops, hairdressers, gyms, cafes, practically everything this week with the virus still spreading. It did so because 70 per cent of its citizens are now fully vaccinated. Britain and many other countries have done much the same.
Our Government will not commit itself to reopening at a precise vaccination level, but National has. Having declared it would start as soon as 85 per cent of eligible New Zealanders are vaccinated, National should make a vigorous, visible contribution to the big drive today.
With more than 80 per cent already fully or partially vaccinated, we will exceed that level within six weeks. But the gold standard remains 90 per cent. Ireland has got there and with a concerted effort by all parties today, we could get up there too.