16 November 2011

Let’s talk about policy (A Tui billboard idea?)

I’m taking a proverbial cup of tea, amid the fuss about tape-recordings and billboard-defacings, to take stock of the different directions in which the two major parties would take us in a post-election future.

The Labour Party kicked off its election campaign by trying to focus on policy substance – as well as its historical heritage – and to avoid a personality-based face-off with Mr Key which they knew they wouldn’t win.

National seemed to be happier to let the persona of their leader carry them along, until things got derailed, but they have also released a lengthy list of policies. Many of those ideas got drowned out when they were launched, thanks to the tea-break incident. But their latest welfare policies got some air-time – even though they are only marginal changes, the moral impact of which will far outweigh any budgetary savings.

The odds are in favour of National being in a position to lead the next government, possibly on a govern-alone basis. But their policy planks do suggest that, further down the track, they want to move on with more deregulation, deeper asset sales and more private-sector involvement (e.g. in ACC’s motor-vehicle and off-the-job claims), and seeking a third term to gain a mandate for that.

Hence the importance of keeping the ACT party in Parliament for that long-term job – and hence the extraordinary contortions being made to keep the tea-party tapes suppressed. (It may be that the most incriminating evidence on those tapes comes from Banks’ mouth.) It would be safe to assume that there are wealthy individuals backing Brash and Banks to lead policy debates, as a minor partner, on the right flank in future, if they can survive the next two elections. But that may mean dumping Brash as leader.

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to read Nicky Hager’s The Hollow Men, as many of the protagonists in that scandalous story are back (Joyce, McCully, Brash, Key) and they mean business. That book gives an insight into how they work in the back room.

Labour, on the other hand, not only has some distinctive policies compared to National, but, if they are to govern in the foreseeable future (not likely this time, maybe next), it is almost certainly going to require an arrangement with the Greens – and hence substantial policy and office-sharing accommodations for green ideas. A red-green centre-left coalition offers quite different options from their opponents.

As for the Maori Party – still the major indigenous voice – depending on the numbers, there is a danger that they could become a spoiled poodle for a resurgent right, and so they may need to break off the leash altogether and show some teeth after this election. Or will they become one of those centre parties who (to mix metaphors) get into bed with whomever has the most seats – and so run the risk of death by a thousand cuts?

Beneath all the fuss about tapes and billboards, there are always interesting issues of real substance. But, if the Herald on Sunday releases a transcript of the tape this coming Sunday, the final week of the campaign will be dominated by one issue.


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