Former National advisor Richard Long has let the cat out of the bag. The day before National’s much-hyped, cure-all tax cut package is to be announced, he is desperately trying to change the subject. National has nothing but tax cuts to offer, it has been their one consistent answer for every problem but, now, tax cuts are a liability. National’s tax package will disappoint on all fronts – it will certainly need more borrowing, it will be too small to affect the economy, and most people will be offered very little, certainly much less than the $50 people have been led to expect. A disaster of unmet expectations looms. So, National is suddenly, for the first time in nine years, keen to talk about something other than tax cuts.
The debates have become absolutely crucial. Long reveals this by making only cursory mention of tax cuts before devoting most of his column to the debates. National is now putting big resources into getting Key ready. Exceeding expectations in the debates will be all important. The Key we see will not be the bumbler – he will appear well-informed and give the impression he has solutions (which will be kept suitably vague). And he will be aggressive. Since he has no answers, he will have to be to shift the focus from whether or not he has anything better to offer to creating dissatisfaction with the incumbent. That is already evident in the wider campaign. Key has stopped even bothering to tell us he is ‘positive and upbeat’. Now, he doesn’t even pretend he is not being uniformly negative as he seeks to blame everything, including the largest meltdown in the international finance system since the 1930s on Labour. The debate will be the same.
The gambler’s great punt on tax cuts will come up a dud tomorrow, so Key will have to put all his remaining chips on outshining, even rattling, Clark during the debates. If he can’t, all bets on a National victory will be off.