Armstrong on the state of the parties

John Armstrong’s column is strong this morning.

For the great bulk of the people, politics does not matter most of the time. They have other things occupying their lives.

The remoteness of politics is a critical factor in answering the question which will be really taxing the minds of politicos over the summer holidays: which party is going to win next year’s general election?

Anyone who looks at the polls now and assumes Labour are a shoe in is dreamin’.

The spotlight is yet to come on David Cunliffe and when it does it won’t go well for him. Labour tactics meanwhile aren’t working at all.

National’s opponents have long worked on the assumption that John Key’s Government – like all Administrations – will inevitably be ground down and worn out by the failings which destroy all Governments ultimately – namely the accumulation of mistakes, embarrassments, duplicity, expedience, arrogance and (the real killer) the feeling that from the Prime Minister down the Administration is no longer listening.

Things reach a tipping point where a clear majority of voters deem a Government has reached its use-by date. At that point it is as good as being all over. There is no way back.

Labour and its allies have seen their task as one of hastening that decline and ultimate fall. Because Key is the embodiment of National’s ongoing success, Labour has devoted considerable effort to pinning the blame on him when things go wrong or look dodgy.

In order to ping Key, Labour has become far too consumed by the minutiae of day-to-day political conflict which largely passes most people by.

Unfortunately for Labour, the Prime Minister – assisted by poll data – has an instinctive and almost always accurate ability to diagnose what is really unnerving voters amid which issues he must tackle and those he can safely afford to ignore.

And that means not being too prissy about how he goes about it.

It means ensuring that in their portfolio work, Cabinet ministers are almost always on the side of majority public opinion. ?

National’s fortunes basically haven’t slipped. Labour’s wax and wane as do the Greens. I suspect that the Greens have reached their nadir, the focus is coming off global warming now as study after study shows that they were and still are alarmist in the extreme. People are over their opposition to progress and their scare-mongering.

Ultimately John Key and his government remain focussed on things that matter…mostly.

Be it the number of non-urgent operations carried out by hospitals, the crime rate, prodding welfare beneficiaries back to work or building new roads to unclog Auckland’s traffic – things which really do matter to people – Key and National devote considerable attention, effort and resources to getting it right.

As long as National continues to focus on such fundamentals, all the huffing and puffing provoked by matters like Key’s handling of legislation covering the security agencies pale into relative insignificance as far as many voters are concerned.

Such things are treated as the flotsam and jetsam of political life.

David Cunliffe meanwhile is lurching to the hard left and competing with the Greens.

Key has been helped by David Cunliffe seeking to reassert Labour’s dominance of the centre-left since taking over his party’s leadership.

The latter’s forays into National-occupied territory to Labour’s right have so far been comparatively rare. But Cunliffe will have to do battle there and come up with necessarily attractive policies with which to do it.

The upshot of Labour’s failure to engage in such fashion is reflected in yesterday’sHerald-DigiPoll survey. The centre-left parties are in no better position than they were at the start of the year.

National seemingly continues to defy political gravity. While Cunliffe is going to be a much more difficult proposition for Key to handle than were the former’s predecessors, there is no reason why National’s poll ratings should not remain at such stellar heights.

One day Cunliffe will wake up that cuddling the Greens is toxic. Helen Clark worked that out, just as she worked out that you could take them for granted also.

The problem for Labour lies in the fact that the economy is recovering and recovering well…the good news just keeps on flowing and there is nothing to suggest that voters should change government.

This week, however, provided fresh sustenance to the view that National can hold on to power after the 2014 election.

It was an astonishingly positive week for the Government, its only disappointment being that all the good news would have passed most people by in the Christmas rush.

In his speeches, Cunliffe likes to say a Labour Government he leads will not be afraid to use the powers of the state to intervene where a market fails. Well, someone else got there first.

His name is John Key. His sacrifice of his party’s ideology to cut a deal with Twentieth-Century Fox to ensure the further?Avatar?movies are filmed in New Zealand illustrated Key’s willingness to undercut Labour and leave that party punching at air.

The following day’s fiscal update also offered Labour little to complain about given its rosy growth forecasts and confirmation National remained on track for Budget surplus by mid-2015 – something which will give National huge cachet with voters.

The clincher came on Thursday. The Treasury’s growth forecasts have frequently turned out to be little more than mirages. Not so the latest official gross domestic product figures which had economic growth hitting a giddy 3.5 per cent in the September year.

You can quibble that much of it was the result of post-drought resumption of dairy production.

But nothing could wipe the mixture of utter jubilation and sheer relief on Bill English’s face in a post-announcement video filmed by his office.

Here, at last, was the vindication in concrete for his modus operandi as Finance Minister; here, after five tough years, was the dividend he must have at times wondered would ever come.

The election is not a foregone conclusion, Labour doesn’t have much cheer to take into Christmas, especially as their mayor is still stinking up the joint in Auckland damaging their brand.