The Dim-Post

February 28, 2011

Politics post-Christchurch

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 7:37 pm

Bryce Edwards aggregates various bloggers, pundits and journalists predicting that the tragedy in Christchurch would be ‘good’ for National in terms of polling and election results and there seems to be a conventional wisdom forming around this. I think it’s wrong for two reasons:

  • There was no substantial movement in the government’s popularity after the September quake. Maybe we’ll see a post-event bounce but I doubt it will be sustainable. I think almost all of the swing voters in the country currently support National, so there isn’t much room to move.
  • The severity of this earthquake will send the economy into a sharp recession for the rest of the year (probably the next few years). This will not go well for the government.

In these circumstances voters tend to drift towards non-ideological populist parties that play to people’s sense of anger and resentment, and in New Zealand that constitutes ACT and New Zealand First. Ordinarily Labour would gain from a poor economy under a National but the current leadership has no ability to persuade or attract voters. ACT are even more doomed in that respect. I’m picking that closer to the election we’ll see the government’s popularity decline and New Zealand First’s rise.

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30 Comments »

  1. In relation to N.Z. First, One thing the right has got to get it’s head around is a vote for N.Z. First isn’t necessarily a vote for Winston Peters – it can also be a vote against National (and Labour, no one every said voters were logical).

    Comment by Sanctuary — February 28, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

  2. I have given this some thought as well Danyl. I think it is somewhat more complicated than it seems. The earthquake will in some ways make National more invulnerable to criticism, and some that will make it more open to criticism. The overall effect will depend on how National and Labour spin things. I will start with the ways in which it will help the government.

    First, we have seen very poor economic management from National, and yet it is deemed a good economic manager by the majority of voters. Effectively, the country has been in deficit since National took office. Poor policy from the government, however, is often not criticised DUE to the recession. There is a misguided sense among most New Zealanders that in the face of a demand side economic contraction, supply side cuts are needed (although this deepens the recession – something that English didn’t learn after his handling of the Asian Economic Crisis, or Ruth Richardson’s “Mother of all Budgets”). Something that might be a good idea when managing (say) a farm is a bad idea when managing an economy. Anyway, in the throes of a deeper recession, cutting welfare benefits and gutting the state sector will be seen as brave and responsible, irrespective of the economic sense of such moves. Thus the government is less vulnerable to criticism. To overturn this, the opposition needs to counteract “We have to do this, because we are borrowing $280 million a week”, which requires an explanation. The explanation takes a few arguments, and explaining is losing.

    On the other hand, I do think that the people of the South Island will be very unhappy come November. Put simply, not enough will have been done to help them. If the opposition is enormously skilfull, they can take advantage of this. If they are anything less than enormously skilfull, there will be a backlash.

    [Personally, I think that the trump card the opposition can play is superannuation. Coming out with a well reasoned explanation for why it is necessary, and announcing a phased in implementation will seem responsible. National will be a sitting duck as John Key has ruled out touching the policy].

    Comment by DT — February 28, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

  3. I mean the economy has been in RECESSION since National took office.

    Comment by DT — February 28, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

  4. DT, good comments.

    On this:

    Anyway, in the throes of a deeper recession, cutting welfare benefits and gutting the state sector will be seen as brave and responsible, irrespective of the economic sense of such moves. Thus the government is less vulnerable to criticism. To overturn this, the opposition needs to counteract “We have to do this, because we are borrowing $280 million a week”, which requires an explanation. The explanation takes a few arguments, and explaining is losing.

    I think there should be a short punchy argument based on the results of austerity policies in Ireland and the UK. Make the Govt explain why austerity would work differently here.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — February 28, 2011 @ 8:22 pm

  5. @Pascal’s bookie:

    I agree. It is hard to counteract the “We have to do this, because we are borrowing $280 million a week”, but it can be done. I despair that Labour doesn’t have many good economic minds with the loss of Michael Cullen.

    Comment by DT — February 28, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

  6. yeah, don’t know about any of this…too early to tell – the only watershed one could point to at this moment is Bob Parker’s mayoral victory post the September quake.

    Comment by dylan — February 28, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

  7. Key will get a bounce, and then lose it when he turns up grinning at the Royal Wedding, on a freezing night in Christchurch.

    In the meantime, the next MP (of any party) who spends up on their housing / flights / porn / BMW, is going to be given a one-way ticket to the Garrett/Wong club. (Investment tip for 2011: tar and feathers).

    Comment by sammy — February 28, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

  8. @ Sammy – the “Garret/Wong club”? Why not the Jones/Ririnui club, or the Carter/Dyson club?

    Comment by Inventory2 — February 28, 2011 @ 10:26 pm

  9. <blockquote.I despair that Labour doesn’t have many good economic minds with the loss of Michael Cullen.

    Many or any?

    And what was “good” about taking off one sector of society and giving it to another? That’s simple. Anyone can proffer that. Cullen was intellectually vacant. But he had a razor sharp wit.

    Comment by Gooner — February 28, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

  10. I despair that Labour doesn’t have many good economic minds with the loss of Michael Cullen.

    Many or any?

    And what was “good” about taking off one sector of society and giving it to another? That’s simple. Anyone can proffer that. Cullen was intellectually vacant. But he had a razor sharp wit.

    Comment by Gooner — February 28, 2011 @ 10:30 pm

  11. I know damn all about “economics.” But post-‘quake Christchurch has an enormous task of reconstruction. It also has the materials needed to effect this rebuilding. Above all, there is a labour force throughout the country that is unemployed or presently employed on unnecessary infrastructure (think Waterview), that could be gainfully utilised in the shattered city.

    Why is money a problem? Why should a bringing together of labour and materials be constrained by the lack of “money?” Am I being simplistic in suggesting that we issue our own credit at low rates of interest. Print the bleeding stuff.

    Haven’t the American printing presses churned out billions . . . or is it trillions?

    Some comments please.

    Comment by Wyndham — February 28, 2011 @ 10:46 pm

  12. I’m with you Danyl. I don’t think the quake will be good for the government.

    And watching Key tonight on Campbell Live, all I could think was, you really don’t have a clue do you? Not even a modicum of a clue which is what I expect of someone faced with something like the quake, but simply, Key was well, vacant.

    Comment by Chris — February 28, 2011 @ 10:59 pm

  13. Another thing which has occurred to me is National is gearing up for an all-out attack on the poor as scapegoats for their economic mismanagement.

    It is going to be a bit hard to invoke the spirit of the Blitz when you are simultaneously trying to marginalise and objectify a significant number of your fellow New Zealanders as the enemy, and trying to do so when the nation has a new found sense of togetherness and solidarity could backfire spectacularly.

    Comment by Sanctuary — February 28, 2011 @ 11:06 pm

  14. I don’t really have any idea how it will play out in the long term, but I do know of two things that can turn people anti-National quite quickly if not ‘fixed’ (and this is according to hearsay, from people angry about it – it’s already public opinion/belief)

    1. WINZ applicants have increased dramatically as people from Christchurch turn up looking for help
    2. People from Christchurch can’t easily transfer into other Universities despite being partway through courses and it not being their fault, because the universities are penalised for taking on additional students now.

    Comment by Flynn — February 28, 2011 @ 11:10 pm

  15. Sanctuary,

    That had occurred to me as well. I wonder if implementing policy in that regard is now left until after the election? It will be interesting to see how it is handled. At the least, there will be a delay before the government responds to the findings of the Welfare Working Group.

    Comment by DT — February 28, 2011 @ 11:10 pm

  16. Before the 6.3 I was predicting Labour to do well in Canterbury north of the Rangitata (e.g. retain Waimak, Chch Central, winning party vote in all but Selwyn) because the sense of frustration with the government’s and CERC’s managing of the recovery process and that by November people would be directing their anger at Bob Parker, Gerry Brownlee and National.

    I would think that Key will get a solidarity bump in the polls due to his empathetic and down-to-earth response to the 6.3 – if they get the symbolism right for the cameras tomorrow, it’ll be a decent bump.

    However, the sheer scale of the damage to infrastructure (believe me, it is utterly immense) means that a very large proportion of Christchurch residents (30-40%) will not be able to live their lives anywhere normally for at least 6 months. Even if the government cannot logically be blamed for problems they will undoubtedly start to wear it by November, particularly if the city loses out on having World Cup games.

    Finally, Brownlee and Parker (who Key annointed, remember) are precisely the wrong people to be leading the recovery – neither of them are good at: listening, community engagement, anticipating the response of the community, responding with empathy to concern around processes, responding graciously when things don’t go according to their plan.

    Comment by Philoff — February 28, 2011 @ 11:44 pm

  17. @Philoff: Quite.

    There will be anger. The question will be about timing and magnitude. In terms of magnitude, it could be decisive and it could not. In terms of timing, the government may be able to play national unity for long enough, and it may not. A smart National Party will throw everything at helping in the long term, despite its internal feelings. A smart labour party (small l, small p at this stage) will wait, wait, wait.. and build a case in the meantime.

    Comment by DT — February 28, 2011 @ 11:51 pm

  18. Secret Government memo: Displaced Cantabrians must not be relocated to marginal seats.

    Comment by Pat — March 1, 2011 @ 12:15 am

  19. A smart labour party will wait, wait, find joy in peggy squares, sing some rebel songs and then lose the election.

    Or they could fly Helen Clark in for a few days to announce a UN reconstruction package of 0 dollars.

    Ace strategy guys.

    Comment by leon — March 1, 2011 @ 6:02 am

  20. Danyl and iothers, you don’t think the government’s electoral fortunes will have anything to do with whether they make a competent fist of the quake recovery?

    The government did not enjoy a great boost in support after September, but there were also grumblings beginning about how the recovery wasn’t progressing swiftly enough, and so on. I think there’s a good chance they’ll solidify their support, but only if there’s a very strong and coordinated central government response which yields actual results. It’s an extremely tough ask, and will require radical policy action I’m not convinced this government can or will deliver, but it is possible. The sort of thinking we saw after the first quake (which is what we’ve seen so far) won’t cut it — these are events on different scales of magnitude.

    One option is for the government to soften its position — defer a few of their more controversial social policies until after the election. This would help negate any of the narrative inconsistency in the “Spirit of the Blitz vs welfare cuts” situation Sanctuary describes. I don’t think it’s very likely, but it’s an option.

    L

    Comment by Lew — March 1, 2011 @ 7:38 am

  21. “Or they could fly Helen Clark in for a few days to announce a UN reconstruction package of 0 dollars.”

    Silly leon. The Labour Party doesn’t control the UN. There’s a secret room deep under a volcano full of men smoking cigars around a table who do that. And they are lizards, too.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — March 1, 2011 @ 7:40 am

  22. oh silly old andy didn’t know Helen smokes Havana’s.

    Comment by leon — March 1, 2011 @ 7:56 am

  23. 2. People from Christchurch can’t easily transfer into other Universities despite being partway through courses and it not being their fault, because the universities are penalised for taking on additional students now.

    I don’t this will be a problem. The universities are pretty connected at the top via the Vice Chancellor’s group, and there will be support within this group for University of Canterbury and Lincoln. I expect arrangements will be made to support these two institutions to open, and keep operating, and support will be given to enable students to transfer eleswhere.

    Comment by Chris — March 1, 2011 @ 8:16 am

  24. ACT = “non-ideological populist party”??

    Comment by uke — March 1, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  25. I think you’re right chris – I work at a univeristy and that’s ‘the word’. One sort-of problem is that Canterbury students may not want to go back even when things are relatively hunky-dory. Presents problems for the others in terms of capacity and UC in terms I guess funding or just sheer viability for a little while at least.

    Comment by StephenR — March 1, 2011 @ 11:26 am

  26. There’s an opportunity here for Labour if they are seen to be offering stronger support for reconstruction. On the other hand, the earthquake gives a trump card to the Government for most of the rest of the year – blame can be deflected towards the act of god. The Greens need to stand up for communities and in favour of local democracy. It’s what they’re good at. It might boost their vote a little.

    I don’t see the earthquake as increasing National’s vote, but I do think it helps protect it from sliding, across New Zealand.

    Comment by George D — March 1, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

  27. “…On the other hand, the earthquake gives a trump card to the Government for most of the rest of the year – blame can be deflected towards the act of god….”

    The counter political narrative from the left to this should be to demand equality in sacrifice. If we must pay, then demand the rich pay there share as well. If Key won’t even temporarily reverse the tax cuts for the rich, portray him as a plutocrat unwillingly to pay his fair share.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 1, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

  28. John Key is a Plurocrat – I hope you’re not suggesting that as an electoral slogan.

    Comment by Pat — March 1, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

  29. If Key won’t reverse, even temporarily, his own tax cut bonanza (and insists his ruinously expensive holiday highway to his bach is completed on time) whilst simultaneously his finance minister demands huge sacrifices from the rest in hiked levies, slashed social services and fire sales of state assets, what else is he?

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 1, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

  30. John Key is Crosby/Textor puppet.
    John Key is a wannabee plutocrat.

    Christchurch and the earthquake are going to be signature themes of the election.

    The yet to be revealed budget was always going to contain assorted “slash and burn” items.

    Now even more can be included under the cover of “resurrecting Christchurch”.

    You read that first here.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — March 1, 2011 @ 9:06 pm


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