10 February 2015

The Big Issues for 2015

Waitangi Day being behind us means that the political 'On' button has been switched to 'Full'. So, here is my pick of the 3 big political issues for 2015:
1. Housing, housing, housing. This means housing supply and affordability (especially in Auckland and Chch), of course. Can government do anything serious at all to get Auckland off the 'world's most unaffordable' list? But, 'housing' also means the Key government’s plan to sell off 'social housing' (aka state houses) to NGOs and iwi. This will make the government a target for the opposition. State housing is ‘close to the heart’ for Labour, and it's a critical factor in getting people out of poverty, ensuring good health and education, etc. But, it's essentially a ‘welfare’ issue for middle NZ. So, Labour will also have to push hard on housing supply and affordability for those on lower to middle incomes who are struggling to own their own homes. The election and leadership change put paid to Labour's capital gains tax policy. Will they stick to the 100,000 homes 'KiwiBuild' policy?
2. Security and identity. Every nation must ask itself how it presents itself, symbolically and militarily, to the world at large. The ANZAC centenary and the first flag-change referendum (in late 2015, to choose from 3 or 4 alternatives) will lead to reflection on national identity. The PM has staked a lot of political capital (and $26million of taxpayers' money) on the two referenda. ANZAC ceremonies have a 'motherhood' tone to them, and not much opportunity for the Opposition to attack Key. So, this is his 'legacy' moment coming up. But it will also lead to debate about NZ at war, meaning normally other people's wars. (As an aside, I'd like us not to forget the centenary also of the Armenian genocide, which happened at the same time.) This links with the question of NZ's participation in the fight against ISIS. Recent diplomatic pressure from the UK shows that NZ’s contribution, while small, has an important political/moral supporting role. And especially with NZ on the UN Security Council at the moment. Opponents of NZ involvement will point to the critical situation that now prevails in Libya, for instance, to question the wisdom of western bombing raids against corrupt regimes. Similarly, they will argue that the US/UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the power vacuum in western Iraq that, in turn, led to the success of ISIS, etc., and hence that further bombardment is futile and puts NZ at risk of retaliation. Why do we keep following the UK and US into futile wars? Key is already pointing to the barbarity of ISIS as his case for war: “We can’t stand by and watch…”. But, we have stood by watched other instances of barbarity… It's a predictable debate, and one on which the Greens will have the strongest running as an opposition.
3. The main political story to watch will be in the polling of the Labour Party and the performance of their new leader, Andrew Little. There have been some early positive opinion-poll results, but nothing to threaten Mr Key so far. Most Labourites are probably just relieved that, so far, Little hasn't stuffed anything up. The Key-Little contest has yet to play out, and punters will be watching them closely as they face off in the House over the coming weeks. It will be a long way back for Labour after their electoral disaster last year, and the next election is a long way off, but steady progress in the polls (at National’s expense) would be what they’re looking for. Good results for Labour, though, could also mean that the Greens (who are losing Russel Norman) stall at the 10% level, or decline, so the potential red–green coalition may be not much better off overall by year's end.


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