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 â€˜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 â€˜Aucklanders support the supercity, there is plenty of consultation’. Or â€˜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 â€˜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.