National’s 2008 election victory was undoubtedly a great success for the Party. Just two terms after humiliating defeat under the leadership of Bill English, National rose from the ashes to claim a convincing win. Forming a broad coalition that brought the Maori Party into the fold, thus simultaneously broadening National’s coalition options and lessening the necessity to be beholden to any one coalition partner, was also a success. Some might say National gave away too much for too little in the coalition negotiation process and ACT in particular out-flanked them, but it was probably worth it. After this initial flush of success, however, one wonders what successes can be attributed to National since?
Set pieces like the Jobs Summit have been an abysmal failure: no jobs in any worthwhile numbers have come of it, Key’s pet National Cycleway is set to descend into farce, the 9 Day Fortnight suffered the ignominy of minuscule uptake. Other outcomes of the Summit have long since been forgotten altogether. The Budget’s biggest success, to those stupid enough to not realise the enormity of what canceling superannuation pre-funding means, was to be seen as ‘not as bad as it could have been’.
Caucus unity and credibility have yet to be established and are beginning to look like a forlorn hope. Contradictory statements from Key and his ministers and Key and his Deputy haven’t helped the perception that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing. The woefully misnamed ‘Supercity’ is rapidly converting otherwise ambivalent Aucklanders into fervent anti-National voters and National’s Auckland electorate MPs are understandably nervous, in turn threatening to further undermine caucus unity. The Mt Albert by-election, supposed to be a strong showing from National with Key taking a personal interest in the project and hand-picking the star candidate, was clearly such an abject failure of political judgement that it tarnished the broader party’s perceived credibility.
The tax cuts that propelled National’s polling throughout the lead up to last year’s election, and which for many ill-informed voters provided the significant point of difference between Labour and National’s ‘Labour-Lite’ image, have evaporated never to be seen again in the next decade or so, leaving many wondering if ‘Labour-Lite’ without tax cuts was really worth the risk – especially when it seems the ‘Lite’ pertains primarily to political experience and competence.
The spin-based leadership strategy that served Key so well during the election has already unravelled, leaving the inevitable wake of a twice-as-septic, hostile and cynical Press Gallery – a dangerous state of affairs for any government but exceptionally hazardous for one only 8 months old.
Obviously the exceptional economic conditions offer unique challenges for even the most competent of governments, and it’s likely voters won’t initially blame National for much of the ongoing bad news we’ve seen since National’s election. But it really does seem, both from a political enthusiast’s point of view, and from an everyday, largely disinterested observer’s perspective, that National’s bad news heavily outweighs its good news. National will need to come up with a rich diet of good news before too long if they want to stem the flow of declining plausibility and, given the media’s growing disaffection for this Government, the news will need to be reality based because National have already exhausted their allocation spin-based reasons to be perceived as credible.
So I ask you, gentle readers, what have been National’s successes since forming a government?