Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

National’s dilemma, if elected – if not Labour Lite, then what?

October 24th, 2008

labour lite for national
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The irony about National retaining such a handy lead in the polls is that while the public seems to have decided it is time for a change, it is still not giving National a mandate for change. Public support for National remains conditional on National not straying far from the policy positions Labour has set in place.

Today’s subsidiary poll questions for instance, on (a) whether the country is on the right path and (b) the preferred Prime Minister showed the country to be very evenly split – with the satisfaction/dissatisfaction levels with the government and its leadership being nothing like the gap between the major parties. Hitherto, the change that the public seemed to want was Labour without Helen Clark – but even the polling on that point is now either pro-Clark, or falling within the margin of error.

Would National in government be prepared to be merely Labour Lite ? Probably not. If elected though, National will face something of a dilemma, one heightened if it needs to incorporate the Maori Party into its policy equations. It will either have to disappoint fervent supporters hoping for a free market millennium, or it will risk incurring the wrath of the wider public, for enacting radical changes that National never signaled before the election.

The latter of course is what happened in the US, after the 2000 election. As a candidate, George W. Bush had run as an economic moderate, strongly critical of US foreign policy that sought to install democracy elsewhere. The election result gave him no mandate for radical change, or even to govern at all – but he then proceeded to erase the surplus, enact massive tax cuts for the rich and invade Iraq… in order to install democracy. Its not a happy precedent.

The Roger Douglas theory of governance of course, is that you crash on through with your radical programme during the early, heady days immediately after the election – and convince the public about it later. That is no longer viable, and the public would rebel at a repeat. In 1990 for instance, the public thought it time for a change from a tired and unpopular government, and elected a National government in a landslide, and expected moderation from it.

They got another revolution instead – and took their revenge in 1993 by almost turning National into a one term government. Jim Bolger’s anguished ‘Bugger the pollsters!” comment was a recognition of just how thoroughly National had misled itself into thinking it could get off lightly with the deception. What we can expect from National this time is symbolic radicalism, amid business largely as usual.

What do I mean by symbolic radicalism ? Key’s promise to re-return to a governance role the sacked DHB in Hawkes Bay in the name of democracy is a good example of the sort of grandstanding we can expect. Key’s stance over the DHB is pure Peters style populism, not based on any newfound respect for democracy. Because when National talks about amending the Resource Management Act, it is talking about scrapping the forms of local democracy – about who will have standing to challenge a development project – that it is now pretending to defend in Hawkes Bay, and is doing so even while the DHB issues involved are still before the courts.

Meanwhile, the 3News poll is indicating the Maori Party are shaping as kingmakers. Just as National is ready to govern without having much reason for governing, the Maori Party are enjoying their current sense of importance – but without being able to cite any winnable policy that could possibly justify a three year long alliance with National. Like Roger Douglas, are Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples hoping to crash on through – scrap the dole ! – and convince their supporters afterwards of the wisdom of their choice? Hardly, not when they are also pledged to consult with their supporters after the election, before making a final choice.

This current stance, that treats both major parties as necessary evils of equal magnitude, could easily backfire on Turia and Sharples. The Maori Party’s kingmaker role – however gratifying – must be making a lot of Maori voters nervous, and intent on voting Labour on the list just in case the Maori Party leadership isn’t bluffing about National. Sharples, mindful of that possibility, is now sending counter signals that he, personally, would prefer Labour. Clearly, National is not the only party right now that lacks a genuine mandate for the kind of changes that it harbours in its heart.

And what, finally, of Winston Peters and New Zealand First? It was always going to be hard for Peters in the year of a National Party resurgence, under leadership widely seen as moderate. NZF has always needed a doctrinaire National Party to give it a firm reason to exist.

In the Herald poll, NZF is rating barely over 2 %. In the 3News poll though, it is at 3.5%, with the MMP threshold in sight. If Key can’t be relied on to drive the centre-right swing vote back towards NZF, will this leave Labour voters facing a truly nightmare prospect? Should they now be girding their loins to vote tactically for New Zealand First, in order to get it over the 5 % threshold – as the best way of returning a Clark-led coalition to office? It may come down to that.


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    1. 9 Responses to “National’s dilemma, if elected – if not Labour Lite, then what?”

    2. By Ryan on Oct 24, 2008 | Reply

      If Winston Peters gets over 5% I believe he will go into coalition with National. And if Key needs Winston to get into power, then he will hold his nose and do the deal in spite of what he has said. A vote for Winston is more likely to bring in a right wing government than a left wing one and would be a pretty dangerous thing to do if you want Labour back in.

      Winston’s policy has always been to go with the party with the biggest share of the vote and this time it will be National. This election reminds me of 1996. Winston convinced people that a vote for him would get rid of National and he therefore collected a lot of left wing votes. He then took those left wing votes and went into coalition with National. His rationale for going with the Nats in 1996 was that they were the biggest party. To quote Dr Phil, the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour…

    3. By dave on Oct 24, 2008 | Reply

      it is still not giving National a mandate for change
      Its not giving Labour a mandate to stay the same either. If anything its giving National a mandate to stay the same. Its a change of Government the country wants, more so than a change of direction. If National is “ready to govern without having much reason,” why dont you question Labours “governance without having much vision or direction”. At least National is ready to govern – and I`d rather have a government that is ready to govern as opposed to a government without vision or direction.

    4. By Ian MacKay on Oct 24, 2008 | Reply

      Turia has said the remarks re ban the dole were aresponse to a Garner question. She said that the dole weakened those who were on it for a long time, but ….(edited out) it was necessary to tide those over in hard times.

    5. By mikey on Oct 26, 2008 | Reply

      Why should anyone take anything written by a third rate political hack desperate for a left leaning government seriously ?

      No not you, just a question regarding the utterances of Chris Trotter.

    6. By Chris White on Oct 27, 2008 | Reply

      I know that some on the left hate Key with a passion and some on the right hate Clark with a passion, but I don’t think anybody actually respects Peters and the BS he has pulled in the last 20 years (well those that follow the news closer than listening to 30 second soundbites). As someone who will be voting National this time around, I actually don’t care if Labour wins, as long as they don’t need Peters to do it. The best possible outcome for NZ is that he is finally kicked out. At least the rest of the leaders seem to genuinely believe that their policies will make a better place for all NZers. With Peters it is solely a cynical grasp for the benefits of power and it is disheartening to watch the others pander to this.

      Cheers, Chris W.

    7. By Kevin on Oct 27, 2008 | Reply

      So Dave, according to you the country wants a change of government, but wants to keep all the things the Labour government has done? (eg: Working For Families, Kiwisaver, KiwiBank NZ Rail etc). This “cut off your nose to spite your face” outlook a lot of people have seems bizarre to me in the least.

      You would rather have a National Party “ready to govern”, than a Labour government “without vision or direction” (a concept I find had to believe when looking at the past 9 years), I would say this country has had enough experience in the past of National governments with “vision and direction” to not want to go that route again.

    8. By James on Oct 28, 2008 | Reply

      I totally agree with that sentiment Kevin. People I have talked to who say they are voting National because “its time for a change of government” can give at best a vague answer when I ask them point-blank exactly WHY they want to change, or what they want to change TO.

      Nobody seems that interested in National’s policy of selling off state assets. Few believe that National really can “cut the bureaucratic fat” from public services, or have any clue how they will do that without compromising essential services. I certainly doubt very much they will be able to do so purely on the track record of past governments who have tried it.

      The “nanny state” thing comes up fairly often but there’s so many holes in that picture it’s hardly a valid argument.

    9. By Garth on Nov 1, 2008 | Reply

      Reading your column has given me one of the best reasons for voting national. That is they have promised a referendum on MMP. Reading Ian Wishart’s “Absolute power” has confirmed my suspicions. That the government has always been heavily influenced by the Civil Service and that “first past the post system” ensures a more regular change. That in turn helps ensure that higher echelons of the civil service can neither be hijacked by the hard left or hard right. Also helping our civil service remain apolitical, which I believe is essential. We have the worst MMP system possible. No one can be sure of what we have voted for until it is too late and the average person still does not understand it. We were sold MMP because it would stop mad swings from left to right and keep parties in power for longer. I am arguing that may not be a good thing. Another point; Why is Ian Wishart not in jail for liable. You may not like him but we need strong investigative reporters like never before, if only to keep our system and our politicians honest (faint hope) or at least more honest than they would be under a Communist system (the ultimate bureaucracy).

    10. By julie on Nov 2, 2008 | Reply

      I voted early and National. It is not for the change but for the fact you can’t make Labour’s Union policies work without business.

      NZ is not a rich enough country to give Labour what it wants. Sweden is already learning that forcing business to hire people based on gender and race isn’t working and they are learning fast that business can’t afford to be competitive and pay high wages because a law says so. How can labour expect all business to pay minimum wage of $15 by 2010 and this includes all youth workers?

      Sure they can up taxes so that Government workers get the increases. But business is the backbone not Government. Sure they can up taxes to put more women in business but that won’t work anymore than the Government investing tax dollars to put men in business.

      Whose going to pay for all the other labour policies coming that have not been spoken of.

      All we will do is lose more of those who are capable and exchange them with more from overseas who aren’t.

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