New Zealand: Key to the future

Experience counts.

John Key rides high today. The Prime Minister is vindicated in Epsom and Ōhariu, and National can press ahead with those contentious asset sales. Could the emboldened government begin to unveil a more ambitious plan for the country? Dealing with dire social issues and arresting the cross-Tasman migration flow are two vital goals. I hope National can now raise its game and begin to develop lasting economic growth through the repatriation of capital and the attraction of positive inward investment. Whipping up enthusiasm from the disengaged youth should be a major aspiration going forward.

Key's prediction that the Conservatives would poll low proved correct as Colin Craig failed to win Rodney. Can the Conservatives' 2.8% showing prove sufficient to ensure the party's survival? It's true to say that the votes they achieved deprived National of an outright win. This fact could be employed by the Conservatives to boost their influence in future. They could endorse certain National electorate candidates in 2014 as UKIP has done to the British Tories. They have three years in which to forge a viable Rodney constituency force to ensure a win next time.

New Zealand First was propelled back into parliament with eight seats, which means that the party can succession-plan for a post-Peters future. Winston Peters confounded the pundits and sceptics, and his experience shows. He will be a formidable critic on opposition benches, and his team of novices will be on a steep learning curve. The party could yet vie with Labour for the chief opposition mantle. And they have until 2014 to create strong constituency associations in various target electorates. This is New Zealand's sole populist movement, and they have broad support on which to build.

Despite a robust and engaging campaign, Phil Goff is set to resign, paving the way for a new Labour Leader to take the party forward proposing a realistic agenda incorporating policies like raising the retirement age. Their choice of leader will determine their chances next time. But as we all know, governments tend to lose elections rather than oppositions win them. All an official opposition party can do is be a government-in-waiting, crispy clean with an attractive agenda and bide their time waiting for the incumbent party to stumble. With careful and pragmatic Key at the helm, Labour could have a lengthy wait. But Labour is weak on the ground these days. Shoring up core support won't win an election, but merely ensure that the party survives. They have to win back middle New Zealand, much of whom now regularly vote Green.

John Banks' survival in Epsom enables Catherine Isaac to assist in developing a strategy for the party's future. Although, certain names touted as potential leaders are still unrealistically young.

Can United Future survive the veteran Peter Dunne's retirement, or will more likely the party go the way of Jim Anderton's Progressives and fade into oblivion? Dunne might be back this time, but will he be around again in 2014? And his Ōhariu constituency would most likely revert to Labour when he goes.

The Maori Party has suffered the fate of minority coalition parties the world over and lost support at a subsequent election. They must make real gains this time in their bargaining with National otherwise they could experience a further fall in 2014. The spat with Hone Harawira cost them one seat at least. Can they experience a resurgence? And how long can the present ageing leadership continue, and is there a leader-in-waiting in the wings? If they do have a leadership succession strategy they're keeping it awful quiet.

The Greens did amazingly well. They've intelligent, experienced and articulate people in their parliamentary ranks these days. Their party vote rose in a number of affluent electorates, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that several of these constituencies could be won outright in 2014 if the Greens persist in their campaigning throughout the term of this next parliament. But right now talking up their concerns and advocating their policies won't alter the political landscape or protect the geographic one. They might get press coverage, but shaping government policy is the only way to effect change and improve the environment. And remaining outside the corridors of power might be the pure route, but is it the sensible one?

Key's victory is a personal triumph. What I found astounding was the quietness of the process, the low-level media coverage, the lack of celebration at the news of the National Party victory, and the failed impact of strong candidates in several constituencies. It seems that Kiwis vote alright, but they do so out of duty and with little enthusiasm. How engaged in the process are they really? Perhaps they're more whipped up by sport than they are by the proclamations and ambitions of politicians. 

Pundits may rage and analyse, but the people appear to take the view that life goes on regardless. Will their votes really matter at the end of the day? Only John Key, Bill English, Steven Joyce and colleagues can respond to that. They could deliver on promises, demonstrate that their programme actually works, and forge a future of which New Zealanders can be justly proud. But there seems to be a long way to go before they capture the imagination of the people. Turnout was lower again this time and dropped to the level of a decade ago. That fact alone must be a sobering one for National's campaign chief Steven Joyce to digest. 

This was yet another MMP result, with National governing only with the support of tiny minor parties. Should ACT fail to rebuild by 2014 and United Future expire next time, National enters a precarious place indeed. John Key had better prove his mettle during his second term, but that will not be an easy task given impending global economic catastrophe. He will need all his powers of persuasion to navigate his way through choppy political waters over these next years.

He might possess negotiating skills, salesmanship and determination. But does Key actually have the imagination to steer New Zealand to a "brighter future", or was that mere campaign rhetoric?

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1 comment:

  1. The win in Epsom is more to do with the stupidity of Labour and the Greens than a vindication of John Key. The Left in Epsom clearly need some MMP lessons. Act could have been dead and gone, although they are pretty close to that already.

    If Key's goals are indeed fixing social issues and stemming the trans-Tasman flow, I don't hold a lot of hope that he'll succeed. After all, past performance is the best indicator of future behaviour, and he's done bugger all in those areas to date. Many more will desert this sinking ship before the next term is out.

    I don't even hold much hope regarding fixing the deficit by 2014; Key has increased borrowing to date, and his reflex ideological programme of asset sales, tax cuts, austerity and an (un)healthy dose of do nothing won't work - it never does, and I'd suggest, never has, anywhere.

    I feel sorry for Goff. He's a good chap and if the great unwashed don't simply vote on tribal lines and the myths of better economic management
    that the media supports, there would have been a better result. He's far from loony left, more centre right, and would be a better PM than Key. I hope he doesn't resign immediately, but sticks around to rebuild the party into something that can win in 2014.

    In three years we will be a far weaker and poorer country for yesterday's decision, though. Sad, but them's the breaks in a democracy.