Only one party looks ready for an election

Tracy Watkins gives us her opinion on recent political events:

Two things happened after Bill English named the election date that should worry his opponents.

National used its advantage to hit the ground running – promising more cops, whacking petrol companies about the head with an inquiry into pricing, and wiping historic homosexuality convictions.

Meanwhile, Labour squandered its good start to the year.

Leader Andrew Little read his MPs the riot act over caucus discipline, after MPs and the party were at odds over Little’s promise of a seat for broadcaster Willie Jackson.

One of Little’s MPs even hired a PR firm to publicly call him out on it. MPs have been expelled for less.

Only one of these parties looks like it’s ready for an election.

National has shown it will be ruthless about neutralising contentious issues between now and September 23. Business as usual, in other words.

Labour, despite claiming it’s ready to fight an election any time, is doing a good job of looking as if it’s still got other stuff on its mind, like settling internal power struggles.

The optics on Little’s Jackson debacle aren’t good. There was clear insurrection in the ranks of Labour and no one has been disciplined and Andrew Little has had to walk back everything he has said on the issue. With the first serious challenge of his leadership he has been found wanting.

Little thinks Trump and Brexit matter in NZ. They do, but they are of no hope for him and the fact he thinks it is shows how inept he really is.

When the phone is off the hook it’s hard for opposition parties to get cut through.

The sense of a world in constant turmoil could compound the problem. A risk-averse election and flight to safety would favour National.

But there is another scenario. One in which we get swept along by the same forces of extreme anti-establishment-ism, a deep cynicism with the political system and a rejection of the status quo.

The things that were broken that drove change in Britain and the United States are not so broken here. There is still a high level of trust in the integrity of our institutions, immigration has not produced the same pressures as in Britain (and the rest of Europe) and we are untouched by terrorism.

But Brexit and the US election were notable for the willingness of some deliberately to erode public confidence in the system and not always by telling the truth.

Will the rules also be thrown out the window here?

I don’t believe so. Labour are the party that represents the equivalent of Remainers and Democrats. Labour’s born to rule attitude never really has been adjusted despite three consecutive losses at the polls. Labour still believes that the electorate are dunderheads and are still being hoodwinked by those nasty Tories.

Elections are all about throwing mud at your opponent and making it stick. Labels are how politicians do that.

Across the Tasman Malcolm Turnbull is stuck with the name Mr Harbourside Mansion – a label that turns his wealth against him. Trump is a master at labels – chanting Crooked Hillary, drain the swamp, and lock her up repeatedly was what won him the election.

But labels are not a new phenomenon, though they are not always negative. Bill Clinton was slick willy, Rob Muldoon was Piggy and Keith Holyoake was Kiwi Keith.  The Left-wing blogs called John Key donkey, Slippery John, and Smile and Wave.  But he was also Teflon John.

Angry Andy, Neigh Neigh, My Little Pony, Plughead, Mangrove, Septic Tank, Caropotamus, and many others…some of those stuck…some are still talked about. I know that when I named Carol Beaumont ‘Caropotamus’ she asked caucus members if her arse really was as big as a hippo’s. I’m reliably told that she was informed that indeed it was. Then there is the Moroney Effect and other descriptors that have stuck.

New governments have a placebo effect on voters, who see things improving even when nothing much has changed.

But after nine years in power that has long ago worn off and the problems have a way of coming home to roost.

Record immigration levels have worsened the pressures on hospitals, schools and roading.

House prices seem to know only one direction and that’s up.

Law and order has become a burning issue in parts of the country, particularly provincial and rural areas where police are thin on the ground and there is a growing sense of lawlessness.

Labour’s big sell is to be seen as offering credible solutions and not just carping. The party’s not there yet.

National’s big sell is persuading voters they can have their cake and eat it too by fixing the problems while spending billions of dollars on tax cuts. It’s not there yet either.

Labour is nowhere near there. I disagree that National isn’t there…the next polls will show whether Tracy Watkins is right, or wrong.

 

– Fairfax

 


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