One of the stories last week was how little Labour had been damaged by the Carter “affair”. If anything, the opposite. “Labour’s support up after tough month”. “Labour make gains in polls”. “Goff upbeat as polls show swell in support for Labour”. Phil Goff spoke of a mood swing against the government.
In this context I was interested to note in the papers today a couple of usually National-enamoured commentators waking up and smelling the coffee. John Armstrong takes the Nats to task for their scare-mongering on benefits:
The “future liability” of $50 billion in benefit payments is a case in point. Many news organisations covering Monday’s release of the discussion document highlighted that figure. It gave a fresh angle on what was otherwise a rather long rehash of old arguments about the consequences of being dependent on a benefit and the desirability of finding paid work.
But the $50 billion figure is rather meaningless. You could add up the lifetime costs of paying someone state-funded superannuation, but that would not be a reason on its own for no longer paying it.
Beneficiaries are in a different political category to pensioners, however. The $50 billion figure has been concocted to paint the benefit system as an intolerable financial burden.
The Nats tried exactly the same trick with ACC, and good on John for calling them on it this time. The other interesting comment was from Fran O’Sullivan, who cuts to the chase – it’s the economy stupid. “Labour gets back into the game”:
But the real thing Goff has going for him is the “fourth dimension of politics” – time. Confidence is eroding and unemployment surging as the New Zealand economy enters a long and bumpy phase.
Finance Minister Bill English is softening up the public for some prudent – but tough – times ahead. In recent days, international worries have re-emerged that the world may be on the verge of a double dip recession; a factor that should prompt the Reserve Bank to call a halt to interest rates hikes. In this environment Goff and his finance spokesman David Cunliffe, who is taking a higher profile these days, will be tempted to exacerbate the public’s concerns over their capacity to absorb mounting bills – rising mortgage rates, increased power and fuel bills and the upcoming GST hike.
It’s good to see this recognised too. Yes Key’s polling is still high, but it is falling, and time is on Labour’s side. Had the Nats been good managers of the economy they could have had two or three terms sewn up. But they aren’t, they are truly dismal. So there’s a simple message for Labour to hammer from here to the next election. National are not responsible for creating the recession, but they are responsible for having no plan to deal with it, and thus wasting the opportunity to rebound. Instead, we are stuck in the doldrums, with a double dip recession looking increasingly likely. Commentators are waking up, the public won’t be far behind.