OPINION | New Zealand's COVID-19 'success' looks a little different from the inside


Brobdingnag is a fictional land in Jonathan Swift's 18th century satirical novel Gulliver's Travels.

When the traveller, Lemuel Gulliver, sees a woman at a distance, he is struck by her great beauty. It is only later, when nearby, that Gulliver discovers how smelly and unattractive Brobdingnagians are, men and women both.

They are a race of giants and so huge they are physically grotesque: a mole "broad as a trencher, and hairs hanging from it thicker than packthreads."

I would never suggest that my fellow New Zealanders, from Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on down, constitute such an unsavoury vision.

But there is something about proximity — living here, writing about the response to the novel coronavirus for which the PM and the country have been richly praised abroad — that makes me think how much easier it is to heap praise when you consider the country at a distance, often a very great one. 

The Atlantic recently proclaimed that Ardern may be the most effective leader on the planet, though the first person it cited was former New Zealand Labour prime minister Helen Clark. Imagine the weight you'd give such praise if it was heaped on Jason Kenney by his old boss Stephen Harper.

Not only is Clark a mentor to Ardern, but she's someone Ardern herself has said she's spoken to for advice in the current crisis. Not that The Atlantic muddied the water with that detail.