Clifton on National’s issues

Jane Clifton writes about that uneasy and queasy feeling that some in National’s caucus are experiencing as Bill English and his mates flap about.

Now, you do have to take what she says with a grain of salt considering she is married to Trevor Mallard…but she is a professional and what she says rings true with the feedback I am getting out of caucus.

As new PM, English is grinding away – to diminishing returns. Labour and National poll soundings show National’s percentage heading south towards the low 40s. Labour isn’t yet benefiting handsomely from this, but if “time for change” momentum accelerates, voters will, however reluctantly, perceive that giving Labour a legitimising vote share is the surest way to achieve that change.

Although tentative, the poll shift signals that what was once a victory sleepwalk for National has tipped into “game-on” territory. English’s assiduously steady-as-she-goes Cabinet, which hasn’t undone any key Keyisms (even the Super proposal is heavily provisional), will be asking what’s gone wrong.  

It’s never any one thing. The Clark Government’s last gasp came after years of survivable voter grudges and niggles, with the pettiest of last straws: light-bulb and shower-rose regulation. These were apocryphal, but mere talk of them felt like a home invasion. The bottled-water furore, although fiscally minute, shows signs of going dangerously light-bulby on National for triggering that same “Bloody cheek!” reaction.

National’s further handicap is lack of experience of sinking popularity. Only a handful of Nats have known times of low voter approval, the past decade safely immersed in the warm bath of Key’s popularity and dexterity. If that bathwater keeps cooling, there are enough talented backbenchers who can see their chances of reaching Cabinet disappearing forever to cause English big trouble.

Water is an issue simply because Bill’s mate Nick Smith has tits for hands. Same with housing…same issue…tits for hands. Bill needs to learn a stock phrase from John Key…’no hard feelings’ and knife this fool before it costs them the election.

The Government’s electoral vulnerabilities – housing, water and the stalled debacle of resource management reform – are all the domain of English’s extremely close friend Nick Smith, aka Pamplona in a china shop. These are two extremely bright men, who not unnaturally shore each other up intellectually. But English’s continued protection of and reliance on his maladroit mate is causing resentment, including in the Cabinet. Under Key, Smith was on his way to retirement. English has made him more powerful than ever. Admirable though it is, sacrificing one’s country for one’s friend rather than the other way round is not how politics is generally played.

Bill always rewards his friends. He is the proverbial leopard and his spots are just the same as they were in 2002. I did warn people, but you all chose to have cloth ears.

Little has work to do, his chief obstacle being his stubborn introversion. In that light, his summer conversion to contact lenses is more than merely cosmetic. It signals a similar determination to win as did Clark’s capitulation to long-resisted heated rollers. If it’s game-on, you can’t be a player entirely on your own terms. Little will never be the cloud-bouncing selfie king that Key was – but his opponent won’t be, either. He needs to learn to work a room and look a little less as though someone just dinged his car.

For the Nats, having so long taken a fourth term as read, the possibility that their own leader may soon be less secure in his job than Labour’s will be a toughie. Points to the first Opposition MP to suggest to the PM that the vacancy for Key’s caddie hasn’t yet been filled.

Right now the only thing stopping support sloughing away to Labour is the fear of the alternative and ironically the Labour/Green MOU which tells voters that a vote for Labour is a vote for the lunacy of the Greens.

But it won’t take much for voters to decide that Bill English isn’t for them and then the slide will come. The only question then is how big will the slide be.

Steve Joyce will be counting numbers, it’s one thing, apart from subsidies, he is really good at. There are rumblings at the moment, they aren’t loud, but they are there.


– Noted

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.