Written By: - Date published: 11:44 am, January 30th, 2014 - 119 comments
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Election year is now upon us and both National and Labour have started aggressively.
National knows that its prospects for the election are not good. With no viable coalition partners it has been forced to talk up the Conservative Party and make overtures to NZ First. Key no longer has the option of pretending to be principled when it comes to doing deals with Winston Peters.
National has also been forced to consider adopting Labour Policy. Suddenly it supports paid parental leave, and it is working out what is the minimum it can do to make it look sympathetic yet more fiscally disciplined than Labour. It obviously understands that supporting rich corporates and not supporting families is political poison.
The cynicism is extreme and voters should be reminded that National voted against Labour’s introduction of paid parental leave in 2002 and also voted against Sue Moroney’s bill in 2012 as well as announcing that it would veto the bill. Its recent conversion is no doubt due more to focus group data than a real belief that the state should help young families so that their babies have the best start possible. I am sure that voters can distinguish between the committed and the cynical.
National has launched a sustained attack on Labour’s Best Start Policy. It seems there was a bit of wriggle room in the speech language and instead of David Cunliffe saying that 59,000 kiwis would receive Best Start for the first 12 months he should have said that 33,000 would receive it for 12 months and 26,000 would receive paid parental leave for 6 months and Best Start for the next six months. But really, is this justification for the beatup? In either case support for young families would be significantly improved. And no doubt if there is justification for this to occur the policy can be changed so that Best Start and paid parental leave can both be paid at the same time.
The Herald is doing its best to help the Government. It has been publishing a particularly negative photograph about Cunliffe taken at the Monday speech. And as Karol has pointed out it has chosen to interview an employee of the far right Maxim Institute to provide comment on the benefits or otherwise of Best Start.
TV3 initially came out swinging but has now backed away from its former position. It accepts that 33,000 kiwi families will get Best Start for the full year and another 26,000 will get paid parental leave for 6 months and Best Start for the next six months. David Cunliffe accepts that the drafting of the particular passage of the speech could have been better. TV3 has described the incident as a blunder in an otherwise popular policy. It is good to see that TV3 has backed off its previous description.
The overall impression is that National is playing catch up on this issue and is maintaining peripheral attacks on the detail of the policy in an attempt to denigrate it. Once the effects of this initial bluster wears off I am sure that the policy will be popular.
So what does Key do? He announces an review of the country’s flag.
This is an interesting tactic by him. His base, the conservative farmer sorts hate any change, particularly one that would suggest that New Zealand is a proud independent nation rather than an adjunct to the United Kingdom. He obviously thinks that he can burn some political capital with his base and gain support from his less secure supporters.
His proposal, that the Government comes up with an alternative flag and then at this election a referendum is run on which flag should be the country’s flag, is undemocratic in itself and will probably fail. It would be much better for there to be a simple question, should a new flag be adopted, and then the public be allowed to propose alternative designs with the best subject to some sort of selection process.
It does not need to be done this year. I agree with Key that this debate would be a distraction during election year where much more important issues than the particular characteristics of a piece of fabric need to be discussed.
But you have to wonder at the timing. Could it be that Key prefers us to concentrate on what a piece of fabric should look like rather than what we are going to do about child poverty?