Tracy Watkins compares the National and Labour starts to election year in National takes the inside running as Labour hobbles election-year start.
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.
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.
National didn’t have a good start to the year. They handled the US immigration restrictions poorly. However they have reacted to that by setting up MBIE to monitor events in the US so they are better prepared for anything that may effect New Zealand.
But then the contrasts between National and Labour began.
English quietly impressed at Ratana while Labour squabbled with NZ First and the Maori Party.
Little’s ‘state of the nation’ speech symbolically accentuated their marriage to and reliance on the Greens but was absent any new policy and ignored Maori issues that a week earlier Little claimed were very important to Labour at Ratana.
English used his ‘state of the nation’ speech to set up National’s election year and included a major policy (actually it was more than just policy as the Government will start implementing it this year), a substantial increase in police numbers.
Labour responded by claiming National stole their policy and it was being implemented too late. The were left playing the lame card.
Then Little tried to score points over English’s decision not to attend Waitangi on Waitangi Day but I think many people will have agreed with English’s stand against the Te Tii nonsense (which was effectively supported by Winston Peters and others).
English quietly impressed in Auckland instead – see Two remarkable speeches almost ignored.
And Labour’s year turned to custard. Little used Waitangi to announce his recruitment of Willie Jackson, with a promise of a high list placing, and Labour and the left went to war. The so called unity in the Labour caucus was very publicly discredited.
And the biggest left wing blogs, The Standard and The Daily Blog, also went to war, against Labour and against each other.
In the meantime the Greens stoically continued their strategy of promoting Labour and Greens as a reason to ‘change the government’.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the Mt Albert by-election, with the main contenders being Labour’s Jacinda Ardern versus Green’s Julie Anne Genter.
While Ardern plays the celebrity circuit she looks shallow as a politician and lacking in ambition, she seems to be there for the ride with no intention of driving.
In contrast Genter is solid on policy, especially on transport which is a big issue in Auckland.
So while Labour and the Greens claimed the campaign would be good publicity for their joint general election strategy it may end up highlighting a show pony versus a work horse.
While National struts it’s thoroughbred ability to last the distance, which could easily be another three years.
A lot could happen between now and September’s election. English or National could really stuff something up, but so far their election strategy looks smart and sound.
Little could finally find a formula that shows him as a capable leader, and Labour could sack all their strategists and speech writers and start again with a credible and stable campaign.
But they plus Greens don’t just have to look better than National now, they have quite a bit of damage to undo. Quickly.