Political management or policies at fault?

Written By: - Date published: 9:59 am, May 25th, 2009 - 16 comments
Categories: national/act government - Tags:

As the wheels have come off National’s political agenda in the past few weeks, their fanboys have wailed in anguish. Lee, Rankin, the supercity, Waterview, the Budget are not policy problems to the minds of Hooton, Ralston, Armstrong et al. They’re ‘political management’ problems.

Let’s dig a level lower and ask what political management means. It means creating the political environment where you can progress your agenda without losing popularity. For National it’s about doing things that people normally object to and getting away with it.

Contrary to what Ralston says in his column yesterday, the Nats do have a strategy. National has been pushing a very ambitious and broad-based agenda very rapidly with little effort to generate political backing on particular issues. Like the US strategy going into Iraq, it is underpinned with the assumption the people will love them simply for not being the other lot.

Take two examples. The Nats seemed to genuinely believe that Lee’s personality failings, her inexperience, and even issues like Waterview and the supercity would be irrelevant. She would win just by running a halfway competent campaign riding Key’s coat-tails. They believed people would not remember or care about the ideology that Rankin and the Auckland Transition Board members represent.

Objections are not seriously engaged with. They are dismissed with nonsense like ‘Aucklanders support the supercity, there is plenty of consultation’. Or ‘we can’t afford to borrow for the Cullen Fund’ even when it is making a fortune and we can afford to borrow for high-end tax cuts. Or ‘we are doing everything we can to protect jobs’. If you’re going to pursue that kind of strategy you have to believe that your popularity is rock-solid, the public will trust you no matter what you do and won’t object to the pace you move at.

The flaw in the strategy is its over-reliance on an illusion, Key, and a delusion. They saw the change of government euphoria that swept the media and the public and thought it meant that the people had elected National unconditionally. In fact, National was elected with very stringent conditions. The public understood it would govern very cautiously and not make any radical changes from Labour’s legacy. It was meant to be Labour without Labour.

What Lee, Rankin, Waterview, the Supercity, and the Budget have shown is that National is not living up to the bargain. It is pushing an agenda that the people did not vote for and people have not been willing to simply roll over and take it. Call it bad political management if you will but I think the its the policies that are the problem. No matter how much you smile at them the people will continue to reject hard right policies. That is something that the Nats, in their arrgoance, have failed to understand.

16 comments on “Political management or policies at fault?”

  1. Excellent post Eddie. Before the election I felt that if National won they would either need to be reasonably similar to Labour or there would be enormous discontent.

    The Labour government of 1999-2008 was generally much more popular than any government since 1984, or perhaps even before then. You generally didn’t see the widespread protests of the early 1990s and the enormous political polarisation of the 1980s. This probably did start to break down in the last couple of years of the Labour government, but I think generally there was an acceptance that the government was doing OK most of the time.

    National could continue that by remaining fairly moderate, but their actions of the past few weeks are waking people up to the fact that this is a VERY different government to what people had from 1999-2008, and people are starting to realise that they don’t really like that change.

    • Daveski 1.1

      What a crock of proverbial. Any Govt that was in Treasury during an extended boom would be popular just as any Govt in Treasury during the worst recession since the 1930’s will be faced with tough decisions and the reaction to those.

      What the left have failed to grasp is that Cullen spent up large based on the good times.

      As the NZ Herald notes:

      Over the past five years, government spending has increased by 50 per cent – twice as fast as the economy or tax revenues have grown.

      Yet we now have tax revenues falling coupled with unfunded forward commitments from Labour.

      If National was not a different govt from the Labour party 1999-2008, there would be something seriously wrong. Labour in 2009 would have no choice but to be a different govt given the circumstances. Instead, it has the luxury of being in opposition.

      I had to chuckle at r0b below and his broken promise re tax cuts. I would have expected r0b to applaud National for this decision but then that’s opposition for you – oppose, oppose, oppose. And yes, PB, that’s exactly what the Nats did in opposition too 🙂

      • Daveski 1.1.1

        I got booted out as I was about to fix my HTML error:

        Granny quote link is – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10574340&pnum=0

      • r0b 1.1.2

        I had to chuckle at r0b below and his broken promise re tax cuts. I would have expected r0b to applaud National for this decision

        Oh don’t get me wrong, National are quite correct to cancel the tax cuts. Quite correct. I do applaud them. What they were wrong to do was make the promise in the first place, when it was quite obvious that it wasn’t affordable. They made the promise as an election bribe knowing full well that they would have to break it.

        • Daveski

          I would expect that the tax cuts will be rolled up into a review of the tax structure. One of the main parties needs to have the spin to address the capital gains issue related to housing specifically as it relates to investment properties. However, that would not be popular and jarbury believes popularity is important so we shouldn’t make that change should we 🙂

          • exbrethren

            Daveski, I’d agree that capital gains on investment properties should be a priority for a decent tax system. You are unfortunately also correct in that neither of the main two parties is likely to ever tackle it.

            I’d also like to see a system in common with many other countries whereby non-residents weren’t allowed to own property. This would also help correct many fiscal problems but again would lead to a more realistic level of house prices so is not likely again from Nat / Lab.

            I’m not so sure as some others about how unpopular the govt has become yet. The budget might be a point where attitudes are changed. I am surprised at how such a tightly managed unit has become unstuck so soon after the election though.

          • Pascal's bookie

            If one was going to introduce a CGT on property, the best time to do it politically would be during a period of falls in the price of property…

            If they don’t do it now, they have no intention of doing it ever.

          • r0b

            I am surprised at how such a tightly managed unit has become unstuck so soon after the election though.

            Ponder the difference between a “tightly managed unit” and a “competent unit”.

          • exbrethren

            rOb, I agree there’s a big difference.

            Still the way the Nat caucus was managed before the election with dissenting views jumped on has quickly eroded. OK they were never going to be able to control Hide but a lot of gaffes have come from within the Nats. Ironically a good % have come from within what I’d see as the Key faction (the less elderly white male part) with Bennett appointing Rankin and Lee’s horror campaiging. Then again maybe its not ironic that the “no fixed ideology” (to paraphrase) Key camp was always going to have problems once it was elected.

          • Daveski

            I am surprised at how such a tightly managed unit has become unstuck so soon after the election though.

            Do you mean the Standard 😉

  2. Lew 2

    Spot on. The government would have fewer and less serious `political management’ problems if they weren’t having to run all their policy through a `benign moderate’ filter – but that being so, without the filter things would be even more troublesome. Constantly battling cognitive dissonance is what they signed up for when they decided to run the labour lite line, though.


  3. r0b 3

    I’m just surprised at how quickly the wheels fell off. I expected National to play it careful and moderate in the first term, enjoy an extended honeymoon, and launch into their privatisation agenda in the second. Instead, within 6 months, they are behaving like a tired, arrogant, out of ideas disaster area. Just what are National doing about the economic crisis – apart from re-branding expenditure that was already planned and hoping for the best? From refusing to hold his ministers to account (Worth), to personally selecting disaster candidates (Lee), to broken promises (tax cuts), the trampling of democracy (Auckland), and the born to rule arrogance (all of the above) – it has all happened so quickly…

  4. gingercrush 4

    I just wonder whether Labour and the left are hedging their bets too much on the Super City. If there is a danger in National rushing the legislation and rushing the Super City overall. There surely is a danger in Labour and the left putting too much into the Super City. The danger is they have put so much into their opposition towards the Super City without a real and meaningful change in Labour themselves. There isn’t yet any real difference between the Labour Party of 1999-2008 and the Labour Party today. Instead, they are wanting this government to stuff up. But they need more than this government to stuff up to get back into office. They need meaningful policies, a clear direction and more importantly a coherent message.

    I don’t think the Super City opposition is as big as the left likes to think it is and I don’t actually think there is much political capital for Labour in all of this. What Labour needs to do is build on this. The Super City can therefore be a platform for an increasing opposition that will eventually have political gains. Their opposition has been tightened during urgency in the house. No doubt the Mt. Albert by-election will increase their morale. Relying on National to falter isn’t enough though. Labour needs to build and re-build and continue to build. In the next year or so. They need to have a clear coherent message of what they will offer in government. Without that, they can’t expect to be government in 2011.

    Though I maintain my opinion that National will have at least two terms in office. Nothing we’ve seen so far for me signals National being a one-term government only.

    • Pat 4.1

      Even the most optomistic leftie would have to concede that Goff and King have two shows of leading Labour to victory in 2011. Goff vs Key is a one horse race.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 4.2

      All good points GC. Opposing something will not help you unless you can provide a vision of the alternative.
      The RC was a good start but their economic analysis was flimsy and they did not deal with some of the wider issues such as climate change and the effects of centralisation of services have on issues such as town centre development, community development, increasing transport costs and problems with providing social services at the urban periphery.
      How to improve the decisions made by council management and professionals (ie how can we improve the performance of the council bureaucracy and is centralisation a solution to this?) I would have thought should have been considered when looking at efficiency.
      Unless they can show how you address these issues, I am not sure you can prove your alternative is better.

  5. gobsmacked 5

    Latest Morgan poll out: Nats down, Labour and Greens up.

    Not huge shifts, but the numbers are only going to head one way now.


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