Ten ticks for National from John Armstrong

In his Saturday NZ Herald column John Armstrong looks at the problems National has weathered and why they maintain a healthy lead in the polls. He then asks and answers some questions.

The questions are obvious. How have Key and National managed to defy political gravity and, perhaps more pertinently, for how much longer will they be able to do so?

It is possible to list at least 10 factors as being responsible, some of them clear-cut and others simply untested gut-feeling hypothesising.

The ten points:

1. Key’s sky-high rating as most preferred Prime Minister.

This is crucial in drawing many tens of thousands of uncommitted voters plus those with weak attachments to other parties to tick National. The “brain fades” and other lapses of last year, a horror year for him and National, seem to have had little, if any, effect on Key’s personal rating.

Labour has long targeted “Brand Key” in the belief that destroying him will destroy National. The strategy may have backfired, revealing Labour as petty and small-minded. Key’s failings may instead be viewed by the electorate as human, thereby increasing his rapport with voters.

2. Key’s moderate conservatism…

…is very much in tune with the prevailing mood of the wider New Zealand electorate. Helen Clark understood that reality. But she still eventually fell victim to the conservative public’s near hatred of Labour’s supposed political correctness.

3. Key is unashamedly pragmatic

– a word that used to be anathema to purists who stood four-square behind Sir Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson in the 1980s and early 1990s. No longer. Ideology takes a back seat with Key. There is no lecturing of the public as to the kind of policy prescription that ought to be swallowed. There is instead a “no surprises” approach, by and large. And the Government does what it says it will do.

Even National’s showcase policy of partial privatisation has a pragmatic element in the retention of a majority government shareholding.

4. The neutralising of troublesome issues rather than allowing them to linger and fester.

In terms of resources, Steven Joyce has thrown the political equivalent of the kitchen sink at the faults in the Novopay payroll system for teachers. No doubt he would chuck the real thing in Talent2’s direction if it might help.

5. Better manager of the economy

Labour’s recent private polling has confirmed a majority of voters view National as the better manager of the economy. They are likely to continue to do so in uncertain economic times. Why? Because Key and Bill English have a proven track record in handling crises, like the Christchurch earthquakes, in a calm and unflustered fashion.

The Herald-DigiPoll survey had a majority of 49 per cent to 43 per cent agreeing the Government is moving in the right direction. National’s Achilles heel can be summed up in three words – jobs, jobs and jobs. However, there are signs the economy is slowly picking up steam – as evidenced by this week’s gross domestic product figures for the last quarter of last year.

6. Maintaining momentum

National may have issued various vision documents which have ended up propping up shelves around Beehive. But the party is not all that good at articulating those visions. It is good, however, at maintaining momentum. It is essential that a Government be seen to be busy, Otherwise, it looks like it has stalled. – and that is fatal.

7. National is still largely defining what the arguments are about in most policy areas.

By doing so, it’s halfway to winning those arguments. Labour has yet to thrust a new dynamic – for example, a more hands-on style of economic management – on to the political agenda and lead debate on its terms.

8. Opposition keep fighting lost battles

Opposition parties are instead still devoting considerable time and effort to fighting battles they have lost – such as partial privatisations. Or trying to land hits on National by raking over the coals of history – Solid Energy being the prime example.

9. The public may be getting acclimatised to the at times rather chaotic nature of minority government.

Clark’s third term was marred by constant sideshows and distractions. Key’s second term has been similarly afflicted. But it has not been damaged. Voters may now be more willing to accept (or simply ignore) the ever noisier political static if they can be assured National is focused on the bigger picture and getting things done.

10. The political temperature is benign in terms of governing.

Apart from asset sales there are few, if any, issues that are seriously divisive and on which National finds itself stranded on the wrong side of the argument for ideological reasons. Voters may be more tolerant, if not forgiving, of politicians’ occasional lapses. Hekia Parata had to get an awful lot wrong before she lost the public’s confidence.

Armstrong concludes:

Crucially, there’s no mood for change, the real government-killer, or even much hint of such a mood developing.

National may still lose next year’s election, but only because of an absence of coalition partners. Its real enemy is MMP mathematics. It can’t do much about that.

What Armstrong doesn’t say, and I think these are as important as any of his ten points in maintaining no mood for change, are Ten crosses for National’s opposition.

Leave a comment

4 Comments

  1. Darryl

     /  23rd March 2013

    The answer to National still being on top is quite simple. There is NO opposition. The very thought of a Shearer, Norman, Harawira, Peters running the country, is just a nightmare in the making. The left spend there time abusing the Government, opposing everything they put forward, and offering nothing as an alternative. If I was voting tomorrow, it would reflect two ticks for National, without a doubt.

    Reply
    • I agree. Key maintains popularity, but the alternatives are looking a bit grim.

      Unfortunately New Zealand politics does not seem to attract and keep strong leaders.

      Reply
  2. Barry Cowlishaw

     /  23rd March 2013

    Are you bored or what? … naughts n crosses now?

    Reply
  1. Ten crosses for National’s opposition | Your NZ

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