Fran O’Sullivan writes:
Bill English is a no-nonsense and well-grounded politician. He has built a strong reputation for prudent fiscal management since he became Finance Minister
I don’t think English’s failure to reach surplus means much, because the goal was always just a meaningless PR gimmick. But imagine what O’Sullivan would say about a Labour Finance Minister who borrowed $100 billion dollars, ran seven deficits in a row and failed to achieve their primary economic ambition after running an election campaign around it. She’d be on the streets throwing molotov cocktails at riot police, trying to save the nation from the lunatic wrecking the economy, not openly fantasising about them becoming Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, Matthew Hooton, David Farrar, and whatever National Party spin-doctor wrote Rodney Hide’s HoS column this week have convinced themselves – or, at least, are trying to convince everyone else – that National’s humiliating defeat in the Northland by-election was a disaster for . . . the Labour Party. The logic here is that the two polls subsequent to the election have Labour down, slightly, and Winston Peters is just below Andrew Little as preferred Prime Minister. Northland was a tactical victory, Farrar explains, but a strategic failure.
I still think the big tactical and strategic failure here is the National government giving up its parliamentary majority only a few months into its term by losing one of the safest seats in the country. Spectacular failure, in the face of which Labour’s dip in the polls two-and-a-half years out from an election is as meaningless as, well, English’s budget surplus. We saw this stuff from Hooton, Farrar et al during the Goff and Shearer leaderships. Next it’ll be ‘Trading on iPredict shows a coup is underway in Labour!’
I don’t think Labour minds Peters’ current ascendancy. Their thinking is (I think) that Labour needs to win votes off National, but that those swing voters are very wary of the Greens without whom Labour can’t form a government. So a robust New Zealand First as a potential coalition partner might be good for Labour.
Update: Matthew Hooton is bewildered by my scepticism. Isn’t Little’s blunder really obvious? Wouldn’t it have been smarter of him to tour Northland in a big red bus getting great exposure talking about poverty and economic development?
The answer is no. If Little spent the Northland by-election campaigning in an electorate he wasn’t standing in and split the vote handing the seat back to National, every commentator in the country – including Hooton and David Farrar – would have called him a moron. And if the polls dipped afterwards, for whatever reason – economic data, statistical noise – then there would be very loud questions about his leadership in the aftermath of such a catrastrophic blunder, instead of a bunch of National Party activists making trouble.