Politics, in the phrase of ex-US Attorney General William Barr, is just one damn thing after another.
It is especially the case with this Labour government.
Can Labour win a third term? I will leave the question of ought they to your own voting pen.
Let’s look at some pathways up, and pathways down.
Top 5 Things That Will Get Them There
1. Coalition Potential
The Green Party are bobbing comfortably around 8-11%. They have done nothing of note, offered no support other than key legislation and budget, and kept their hands so clean to get that result. This is the 10% coalition partner Labour needs for another shot.
The Maori Party are the coalition hinge, since likely to retain two. But they are so incoherent that they may as well stitch the For Sale signs on their backs. Time for Labour’s Maori caucus to work as a caucus.
2. Leadership of Prime Minister Ardern
So much depends on the last two months of campaign of head-to-heads, and Labour remain strong here. Her support among her Labour base remains very strong among women, even if corroded within the general public. Her message discipline extends to her entire Cabinet and caucus. No major reshuffles, all scandals and investigations squashed, not a hair out of place. Her to-camera coherence and intelligence still remain an electoral asset. I had thought that Clark would waste Key in debate back in 2008, so I wouldn’t write off Luxon v Ardern. But Ardern is still in her prime and is still an electoral asset – if she can revive in 2022.
3. Minister of Finance Robertson
As Cullen had to in 2005, to win a third term Roberston will have to pull something out of the bag big enough to shift a clear wavering mass back into the Probable Labour vote box. National are now really weak in finance. Robertson has proven to be the power behind the throne in both terms, and he’s an asset Labour need to sell harder to the electorate.
Ours remains one of the strongest economies in the OECD. Headline unemployment and under-utilisation is going to stay at record low levels while international labour movement remains constrained. Economic confidence is sliding down as it gets harder to figure where to invest for those who have such means, and harder to make ends meet for the rest. Over-heating, production limits, and inflation are signals of continuing success. Labour will be rightly trumpeting its successes and its increased support for so many.
Surprisingly, the second half of this term is where the big openings are. Transmission Gully opens in weeks. Waikato Bypass opens late this year. Cycleways in Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland late this year and early next. Te Ara Tuhono to Wellsford opens end of this year. Dunedin Hospital will start to see big steel girders come out of the ground this year. Invercargill Central opens. Labour have also delivered deeper and deeper subsidies for families, workers, old people, beneficiaries, companies, and more. The massive Woman’s World Football Cup 2023 will link Australia and New Zealand into our biggest sporting stage. The electoral question is: will this delivery be sold well enough to turn into votes?
Top 5 Things That Will Stop Labour
1. Luxon Romance
He’s as mild and small-c conservative as Ardern. He’s at least as fresh to power as she was in 2017. In the evangelical core he can bring double the votes that there are in Labour Party members. Many media are turning against Ardern towards Luxon as the inoffensive alternative. His caucus is united if dull, but then TBH so is Labour’s. Men over 40 want a man for PM again. Labour’s top team are as haggard as their public servants. The big end of town appreciate an ex-Chief Executive and their proxy advertising dollar will follow. Luxon cancels out most of Ardern’s advantages and has none of her growing drag of baggage weight.
2. A Further Major COVID Variant Outbreak
Nothing Labour could do about it now: their support would wither either way if they had to reimpose social controls, or bail out the economy again, or just let it burn through the population with higher deaths in order to stay competitive with our neighbours. This would tank what is sinking them already.
3. A Good Speech, and Proxies
I’m not sure if Luxon has an Orewa Speech in him. I’m not sure if he wants to do a full-throated support of Howl of a Protest farmers. I am more sure that John Key could organise proxy speakers to point the way with some electrifying electoral sizzle to steal 4% in a bump. Would National actually gain rural votes by opposing the 3-Waters policy? If National take the Auckland mayoralty and a majority on Council, they gain a more active proxy than Labour did from their putative 2-term dominance
Every year there are doomsayers who say our private debt exposure through mortgages is too high, and there are more of them now. It would take quite a confluence of events, but this doesn’t smell like 1988 quite yet. Let’s see in 12 months. It’s hard to forecast how much of an electoral impact a house price fall would have since National housing policies would be difficult to defend electorally.
If there’s a Labour Kryptonite, it’s tax. This is the Pavlovian Dog of voting. It’s not fair, not fun, not economically effective, and constrains future governments. But it shifts the mood to “what’s in it for me” and coldly alters public discourse towards National. If Labour can’t answer this question in dollars and cents they will lose.