I’m not sure why National are in government. Or, at least, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to think they’re doing in government. Their election vision statement was ‘a brighter future’, wed to fixing the economy – but once re-elected Treasury assured them that the economy was going to be awesome anyway, so they didn’t need to do anything. Bill English now mutters about helping business by recalibrating the microeconomy. (I assume this is code for smashing the unions and lowering wages.)
In the past few days Treasury has tweaked their forecasts a bit – instead of robust economic growth we might be headed for a depression. Bill English concedes we may be in for ‘fifteen years of grumpy growth’. The Reserve Bank has lowered its growth forecasts and thinks English’s all-important surplus in 2014/15 will be a two billion dollar deficit. Apparently John Key’s financial genius doesn’t extend to growing the economy when its not growing anyway.
National’s other great task is the re-organisation of the public service to make it more ‘efficient’, which mostly seems to involve sacking as many public servants as possible and replacing them with Paula Rebstock. I’d argue that the budget debacle in which Treasury and the Education Minister accidentally(?) sacked most of the country’s intermediate teachers, then backed down while insisting it was ‘still the right thing to do’ has destroyed their credibility on this issue.
But I still don’t see a coherent critique of the government from either opposition party. They’ve been on the offensive and gaining in the polls, because how could they not – but it still seems very piecemeal. My sense is that this government is vulnerable to attack on the issue of ‘corporate cronyism’ – that almost of their policy ideas involve sweetheart deals with (usually foreign owned) corporations to increase their profits by transferring costs and/or risk onto the New Zealand taxpayer. (Today’s leaked TPP document is just the latest manifestation of this.)
And we still don’t know what Labour’s alternate vision is. David Shearer gave two ‘state-of-the-nation’ speeches which were so dire they prompted speculation of a leadership coup, so he’s been very quiet recently which seems to be working well for him. David Cunliffe is still giving leadership speeches, most recently to the Kensington Swan Insolvency function (metaphor?). And, via Jordan, I see that Chris Trotter and Josie Pagani are locked in battle over whether Trotters pre-1970s ideals or Pagani’s 1990s Blairite real-politik are the best fit for Labour in 2014.
I think National will lose the 2014 election, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Labour’s turn-out slumps still further, because no one knows what the hell they stand for, and National get back in with a plurality and form a government with New Zealand First and the Conservative Party as partners.