10 June 2012

Is the sun setting on National?

One single opinion poll suggesting that "Labour could lead a Government if an election were held today" (Audrey Young) should not be taken too seriously so early in the electoral cycle. A longer-term trend of polls heading in the same direction, if that happens, may make such predictions more interesting. Nevertheless, this recent poll may indicate that the Key government has lost its mojo - and lost it rather earlier in their term in office than one might have predicted this time last year.

We can trace their decline back to the tea-party incident in November - which derailed National's relationship with the media. That particular PR disaster has been followed up this year by a series of absurd scandals and backdowns too numerous to list here. (I can't help but remind readers of the now-forgotten backdown on private-sector underwriting of workers comp - an event that was overshadowed by the media frenzy over privacy leaks at ACC!)

At the same time, David Shearer, as leader of Labour and of the Opposition, has gained in confidence – in a balanced and unassuming way – and the Greens are now making statements that sound genuinely like a coalition partner-in-waiting. A red–green government is beginning to look like its worth a bet, if you're the betting kind of person.

While National keep talking about 'growing the economy' they are stuck in a monetarist ideology that really deep-down believes that governments do not grow economies (only businesses do!) and hence their only 'solution' to the economic crisis is fiscal austerity. I see no reason why their asset-sales policy will do anything at all for economic growth. A sell-off would add no new productive capacity to the economy, but merely change the ownership structure of what are already well-performing assets. So, National is sounding like they are running out of political good-will and running out of policy ideas.

National's policy-disaster over school class-sizes last week reached so deeply into the interests and anxieties of middle-class New Zealand – and so deeply into the confidence of support parties – that the political consequences of sticking to their guns (or the Treasury's guns) just wasn't worth it. They burned off a lot of political capital over that one bad idea. We may look back and see that incident as the point at which National lost command of the centre. Let's wait and see!


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