Jacinda Ardern on Christmas, Covid, vaccines and movies Die Hard, Home Alone and Love Actually

It’s been a tough year on top of a tough year – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern knows that.

Sitting down for her annual round of traditionally light-hearted Christmas interviews, Ardern veered between Christmas levity and Covid solemnity.

Ardern said the summer break will give her time to reflect on the year that’s been, and the decisions she’s made this year. And while she wouldn’t give an example of a particular decision she regrets making – she said she would be reflecting on the course she charted through the pandemic.

“We are in the best possible position at the end of this year to weather that [the pandemic] next year.

“The way we got there was hard – and I will spend a lot of time, I know, over the summer thinking about how could we get there it in a way that had more certainty, that was smoother – I will reflect on that a lot,” Ardern said.

One specific thing Ardern said would occupy her reflections was the vaccine rollout, and the decisions made around rationing and prioritisation.

She acknowledged parts of the strategy were “hard” for some communities.

“What’s been difficult about this year is the choices have been between two hard things.

“At no point has it been well here’s the easy option and here’s the hard [option],” Ardern said.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about them, but I also go into them thinking ‘this is where we need to go’ and once those decisions are made, you have to move on to the next one, and eventually give yourself space to cast back,” Ardern said.

“I’m really determined that we will get to the end, that we will be able to cast back and reflect on what went well, what could have been done better, because we do have to take all of that with us.

“I’ll look at the vaccine rollout and say ‘how could we do better for the 5 to 11-year-olds? What do we need to learn from the overall rollout for that next stage,” Ardern said.

Ardern wouldn’t say whether she had regrets about the vaccine rollout, which was roundly criticised for its sluggish speed and for the fact it did not prioritise Māori. She said the advantage New Zealand has when it comes to vaccinating 5 to 11-year-olds is there is now enough vaccine supply.

“One of the massive advantages we have is that we have enough vaccine for everyone to start with, so there are no sequencing decisions,” Ardern said.

She also acknowledged some vaccine providers faced challenges in the early phase of the rollout when it came to taking vaccinations into the community.

“One of the things I reflect on is that in the beginning it wasn’t easy for our providers to get out and do what they needed to do. I think they’re in a better position now,” Ardern said.

“I think the thing that I would pick up is how, from what we had, when we had it – how could we make it as effective as possible in reaching the people we need it to.

“When we had limited supply, we had to do a lot of static sites and just try to bring people to us, and that was a hard strategy for delivery for some of our communities”.

Ardern-Gayford Christmas

Christmas for Ardern will be “very simple”, and will include visiting her family in the Waikato and the family of fiance Clarke Gayford on the East Coast.

She said she’ll be catching up with people she hasn’t seen “in a very long time, just like lots of others”.

“I’m going to be spending some time in the sun, which Wellington really struggles to produce,” Ardern said.

Die Hard and Love Actually

Ardern said she’s always up for a “really sentimental Christmas film”, having acquired a taste for sentimental Christmas films from her mother.

She was happy to weigh in on the long-running dispute over whether the classic 1988 Bruce Willis flick Die Hard is a actually Christmas film or just a film set at Christmas.

“I’m going to put it in there [in the Christmas film category]” Arden said.

“That doesn’t mean it should only be watched at Christmas – so that’s where I’d land on that,” she said.

The 1990 film Home Alone, is her “first Christmas film love” followed by “Love Actually”.

Despite Ardern’s fondness for Love Actually, she said she’d never contemplated recreating the famous scene in which Hugh Grant, playing the British prime minister, dances through Number 10 Downing Street at night, having scored a win over the US President.

The Herald put to Ardern that she might contemplate recreating the scene before her occupancy of Premier House ends.

“It’s a classic scene – and Premier House does have the stairs for it,” Ardern said.

She also noted one advantage Premier House had over Downing Street – the fact it is not a working office .

“It doesn’t have the same number of people in it to be caught out by,” she said.

Ardern did not rule out recreating the scene before her tenure as Prime Minister was up, although “not publicly”.

“I mean, just for my own satisfaction, maybe,” she said.

An end to the Ardern-Hosking gift exchange

One thing that will be slightly different for Ardern this Christmas is it will be the first time in recent years she will not be participating in an annual exchange of gifts with Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking.

The pair have typically exchange gifts each Christmas.

Last year, Hosking gifted Ardern a reusable mask emblazoned with his face, and Ardern gifted Hosking a 2020 campaign hoarding suggesting he was himself a Labour candidate.

Upon opening her gift last year, Ardern told Hosking she “briefly worried it was a g-string… And I thought, maybe he’s gone too far?”

“Maybe that’s for next year,” Hosking joked back.

But following Ardern’s decision to pull out of her weekly slot with Hosking, the gift-giving tradition ceased – there was no next year.

“Now that you point it out – I haven’t had an approach from Mike, wanting to exchange gifts, but if we did, I would absolutely consider doing it,” Ardern said, confirming that despite cancelling slots on the show, she had not put Hosking on the “naughty” list.

“If he wanted to still exchange gifts with Neve, I know she was always very enthusiastic,” Ardern said, noting Neve was particularly enthusiastic for a toy vacuum cleaner Hosking had once given her.

Looking to the new year, Ardern was confident it would be an improvement on the year just past.

Next year

Speaking with other world leaders, she thinks people around the world have been reckoning with the Covid future much like New Zealanders.

It has slowly dawned on people that the pandemic is likely to be around for longer than people had hoped.

“What I really picked up is the way that we’re all feeling – when I talk to other leaders everyone else is experiencing the same thing.

“I think in 2020 there was a sense of – having a bit of a view that vaccines are on the horizon – and then in 2021, Delta… everyone has had to come to terms with the fact that this pandemic is not going away quickly and we’re going to have to find new ways to live our lives and keep people safe and keep going.

“Everyone feels the exhaustion of that and knowing we’re going to have to keep going with the pandemic in the background next year as well,” she said.

But she thinks there’s cause for optimism too – and she’s calling on New Zealanders to draw on some of that pride in the Covid response that seems to have ebbed away in recent months.

“If you look at where we were in 2020, and now here – still the lowest case rate, the lowest deaths, some of the highest vaccination rates and on top of that some of the lowest unemployment rate in the OECD.

“We have as a country finished strong – I know we had so much pride in our response and we should still hold that because relative to other countries we have finished strong,” she said.

With more and more Covid treatments on the horizon, Ardern is hopeful that while the pandemic may be with us for some time, it will be easier to live with.

“We have antivirals now that are coming onstream to ease care, we have the prospect of vaccinations for our kids and we have so much more information about Covid – so I am cautiously optimistic,” Ardern said.

She thinks there are reasons to be cheerful on the non-Covid front too.

She’s hopeful next year will see the signing of the long-awaited free trade agreement with the European Union.

“We had a great FTA that we managed to produce this year – I want to add another one to that next year. That will make a big difference for our exporters,” Ardern said.

“I want to continue to make progress on our climate goals – because by doing that we put our economy on a surer footing. Climate change is one of our biggest economic challenges too,” she said.

Ardern’s also hopeful the housing market will see the impact of some of the Government’s measures to open up supply and rein in speculation.

“There’s a lot of speculation about the market turning and we’ve done a lot around investors and tilting the playing field on RMA reform and of course there’s been record consents,” Ardern said.

A better housing market “has to be the goal”.

She challenges the Herald to check in on housing, health, climate change and trade in 2022.

Despite the challenging year, she hasn’t given a thought to a possible life after politics.

“My focus has to be here. It is all-consuming,” Ardern said.

“I’ve always said I’m not one to sit down and map out my 10-year plan.

“That’s always served me well in politics – it can be a fickle place”.

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