Most of the years in review I’ve seen in the couple of weeks have concentrated on gossip and rating individual MPs. Most of what matters not a jot outside the beltway. What matters is how the parties are doing in terms of progressing or thwarting the government’s policy agenda – how’s the government doing at governing? – and how polling is shaping up for 2014.
National did more nasty little shit this year than you can shake a stick at. The fourth year of a government is the year in which a lot of the ideological ideals that aren’t political priorities get through after taking a couple of years on the slower policy track and then winding through the House when there’s gaps between the more important stuff.
So, we had the Local Government reforms, for example, that now basically mean your council can be amalgamated out from under you and you don’t get a say. And the range of services that your council provides will also reduce. RMA reforms give people less say, welfare reforms make life harder for people at the bottom, ETS changes make a joke of our part in the effort to tackle climate change. A Public-Private Partnership to lock us into paying $3 billion for Transmission Gully over a generation. Just piles and piles of stupid shit. National will be feeling good about that, but most of it is reversible.
On its big ticket items. National has been a complete mess.
Education – dear oh dear. I mean what a disgrace. Class sizes, Christchurch Schools, special schools, Novopay. I hear that they plans to push through performance pay are being dropped because its just not worth the grief and the public is firmly behind the teachers now. Parata would be gone if Key were the kind of leader who actually expected results from his people.
Christchurch – the disaster now is not the earthquakes but Brownlee’s cack-handed management of the rebuild. He’s shown that he’s the last person you would have in charge if there were anyone else by managing to outrageously insult just about everyone while at the same time not managing to get a fucken thing done. The latest figures have the population still falling, weakening the case for rebuilding. Christchurch was the one place where National increased its number of votes last election, but Labour’s internal polls now have the Nats in free-fall there and the garden city turning red again.
The Economy – the days when Key and English used to say that unemployment was a lagging indicator now seem like fond memories. There were 50,000 fewer unemployed then. Now, unemployment has been rising for a year while it’s falling in other developed countries. The 5%pa GDP boom we were promised – initially as the recovery from the recession and then as the Chch rebuild has just disappeared. Now, we’re promised a ‘boom’ of 3% growth, which was what we used to call ‘normal’ under Labour. The 57,000 new jobs promised for this year in Budget 2011 have now been revised in the latest Treasury projections to zero. Growth is slowing and unemployment is rising. We now learn there was a second recession in late 2010 as well – that makes 3 in the 6 years that Bill English has held finance portfolios.
Asset sales – selling assets epitomises why National is in politics. And they can’t even get a poxy partial sale away. Now, it looks like they’re going to try for some ridiculous fire sale in 2013 so they can get the boards clear before the next election.
And the blame for all this can only come back to Key. He’s simply not up to the hard job of governing. That’s not to say he isn’t cunning as a rat and a good politician for it. But when rubber meets road, he’s got nothing. And that’s why he’ll have no legacy when he’s gone. The fact that he’s spent so much time overseas – 2 months on official trips that never seem to have any tangible results (hows that Russian FTA coming, or the Gulf one?) and another month on private holidays to Europe, Maine, and Hawaii – could be part of the problem. He’s just not paying any attention to what’s going on at home. His failure to discipline any of his wayward ministers this year speaks to both a lack of spine and an lack of commitment to the job. When he is here, his mind seems to be elsewhere – Planet Key, perhaps – because he remembers nothing that happens to him.
No wonder both the Collins and Joyce Camps are leaking dirt on each other all over the show. Key is losing himself, and National, the next election.
But if anything will save him its Labour and its weak leadership. A lucky run of polls at the end of the year may end up saving Shearer from having to put his leadership to a party vote that he would surely lose (and doesn’t that say something – when a wannabe PM is taking big steps to avoid seeking a mandate from his own members) but a Shearer-led Labour gives Key his best chance to hang on. Can anyone see Shearer matching Key in the debates – what will happen when Key pulls out the flaws in KiwiBuild and Shearer doesn’t even know the concepts, let alone the numbers? Can anyone imagine a Shearer Prime Ministership as anything but a one term debacle?
The clumsy intimidation attempts (eg Curran’s hit on CV and the ‘if you dare ask whether Shearer still holds the Blairite neoliberal views he did a decade ago, you’re a crypto-facsist’ line) make me think his backers have little faith in his abilities either.
The feeling that Shearer ain’t up to it is surely the only reason why National’s support has held up as well as it has and why Labour’s is flat at 31-32%.
What’s that you say? Labour’s up in the polls? Lets look again. Here’s every Roy Morgan since National was elected in 2008.
Labour had a nightmare last election campaign but comparing where they are now to then and saying everything’s going sweet is like comparing a July day’s temperature to that of a week earlier when there was a snow storm and concluding its nearly summer. Labour’s still in winter. It averaged 31% last term (32% if you exclude the election campaign) and its averaged 31% this term, up a touch to 32% in the last few months. The trend for Labour is flat. And that’s not good enough when you’ve got to allow for Shearer losing the debates.
The good news is that Labour has made up the ground it lost in the campaign without taking the votes back from the Greens, who were the main beneficiaries of the Goff-implosion. The Greens have maintained their unprecedented poll ratings – they are the only party currently polling higher than they have ever polled in an election. They consolidated their 11% in the election and are now steady at 12-13%. To put that in context, the last time Labour was forming a government, 2005, the Greens were barely 10% of their size – there were 50 Labour MPs for 6 Greens. Now, the polls are saying the Greens are nearly 40% of Labour’s size. That offers a whole new power dynamic on the Left – and it kills the idea, which I freely admit I held to in 2008 and 2011 that its in the best interests of the Left to stand by the Labour leader. Now, there’s geniune competition for the soft National vote from the Left, we don’t have to present a united front so that the swingers can swing to the Labour leader. An extra 50,000 votes would be nice but it’ll require a flawless year from the co-leaders.
National is losing votes. A hell of a lot of them. Combined Labour+Green now equal National. But, there’s a big but. It’s equally clear that the votes aren’t all going from National to Labour+Green. A big chunk of them are going to New Zealand First. Now, we have to be thankful that NZF is in Parliament this term. If they had fallen short of 5%, the wasted vote would have been enough to give National a majority on its own. All the neat little tricks that Labour and the Greens are doing to split Banks or Dunne from National on certain issues would be irrelevant. It was the strategically smart choice for people on the Left to vote for NZF last election, as so many did. But circumstances change. Now, NZF, thanks to good solid work from Peters, has firmed up his vote from his traditional demographics and stands to be National’s saviour. That’s what would happen on the current polls.
That means that Labour and the Greens need to rustle up another 5%+ by the start of the election campaign. It’s a big ask to expect the Greens, who have just increased their support base by that amount to tack on a similar increase. In short, Shearer needs to convince 100,000 more Kiwis that he can be PM. And, it can’t come from attacking his allies on the Left and thinking that will send their supporters his way – that does nothing to grow the Left vote and get a Labour-led alliance over the line. It’s got to be from the soft Nats and, crucially, from the record non-vote. In 2012, all Labour managed was to get back to where they were in the previous term. And they were helped hugely by a National government that has made itself master of incompetence and lurched from fuck-up to fuck-up.
The other parties: ACT and Banks are history after this year. Dunne is gone after getting singed out over asset sales. Flavell might hold his seat but he’ll be alone with Turia going without a successor lined up and Sharples eyeing the exit too. Harawira has failed to build a wider working class party, instead Mana is effecively only Maori working class – too small a niche. The Conservatives are going nowhere fast
So, the year in review: the wheels have come off National and Key has no idea how to put them back on. Labour managed to regain their pre-2011 election support level off the back of that incompetence but it is Shearer’s lack of credibility that now does the most to protect Key and hold Labour back. The Greens have consolidated at an impressive level but will need to pull something major out of the box if its up to them to get the extra 5% that the Left needs to govern. And the darkhorse is Winston, who has consolidated himself on the scene and is odds on to give Key a third term if the numbers let him.
Ok. That’s quite long enough. Time to start the barbie. Have a good news years guys.