Lew has a post up at KiwiPolitico describing this budget as a failure for Labour due to their poor political positioning which is, I think, totally the wrong conclusion to draw here. Lew writes:
When your enemies move to occupy your ideological ground, it is an opportunity to extend that ground, replacing what they claim from you with more advantageous ground deeper within your ideological territory. The trouble for Labour is that National has moved towards them, and Labour are still trying to fight them for the same ground rather than staking out more ground of their own. Six years after the “Labour lite” campaign that saw them ousted in the first place, they haven’t learned.
Back in 2011 National campaigned on asset sales. This year they’ll be running on the extension of paid parental leave and free GP visits for kids. Trust me, the majority of National MPs and activists do NOT want to be introducing those policies. I suspect that’s why Key is floating the vague notion of tax cuts at some distant future date – to placate parts of his base, who will be livid about all this communism and wealth transfer and additional welfare dependency.
This is what an election year budget looks like when the opposition is winning the ideological debate. What are National’s big ideas for their third term? There aren’t any. There isn’t anything to address the housing bubble in this budget so there might be a ‘big idea’ campaign policy around that but I doubt it’ll be a free market solution. Whatever they come up with is probably going to look like a watered-down Labour or Green policy.
People like to say Labour’s problem is ideological – partly, I think, because that’s something that can be fixed pretty easily. I think Labour’s problem is managerial. They don’t perform well as an organisation and that’s going to be really hard to fix (although I think it’s getting better. During the Goff/Shearer years Labour struggled to get into news stories when they broke. Goff never wanted to comment and Shearer’s comments never made any sense. At least Cunliffe has a presence).
I have this theory that Key’s great skill as a leader is that he’s very good at managing his team. Running a high-performance organisation is what earned him $50 million at Merrill-Lynch, after all. Journalists and pundits don’t really rate management as a leadership quality since they work in newsrooms – institutions which are legendary for their lack of competent management – so they attribute Key’s success to various magical qualities: his vision, wealth-creation abilities, connection with middle-New Zealand. But ‘ordinary people’ understand that good management is important and they vote for it.
So no, Labour aren’t winning in the sense that they’re convincing people to put them into government – but they’re winning the ideological battle. The government are implementing their policies because they’re afraid they’ll lose the election if they don’t.