National’s opponents have long worked on the assumption that John Key’s Government – like all Administrations – will inevitably be ground down and worn out by the failings which destroy all Governments ultimately – namely the accumulation of mistakes, embarrassments, duplicity, expedience, arrogance and (the real killer) the feeling that from the Prime Minister down the Administration is no longer listening.
Things reach a tipping point where a clear majority of voters deem a Government has reached its use-by date. At that point it is as good as being all over. There is no way back.
Labour and its allies have seen their task as one of hastening that decline and ultimate fall. Because Key is the embodiment of National’s ongoing success, Labour has devoted considerable effort to pinning the blame on him when things go wrong or look dodgy.
In order to ping Key, Labour has become far too consumed by the minutiae of day-to-day political conflict which largely passes most people by.
Unfortunately for Labour, the Prime Minister – assisted by poll data – has an instinctive and almost always accurate ability to diagnose what is really unnerving voters amid which issues he must tackle and those he can safely afford to ignore.
Labour need to pick one or two issues that really matter to people and relentlessly push those issues. Instead they run around after the headline of the day.
It means ensuring that in their portfolio work, Cabinet ministers are almost always on the side of majority public opinion.
Be it the number of non-urgent operations carried out by hospitals, the crime rate, prodding welfare beneficiaries back to work or building new roads to unclog Auckland’s traffic – things which really do matter to people – Key and National devote considerable attention, effort and resources to getting it right.
As long as National continues to focus on such fundamentals, all the huffing and puffing provoked by matters like Key’s handling of legislation covering the security agencies pale into relative insignificance as far as many voters are concerned.
Such things are treated as the flotsam and jetsam of political life.
Key has been helped by David Cunliffe seeking to reassert Labour’s dominance of the centre-left since taking over his party’s leadership.
Labour seems to be doing well at picking votes up off the Greens. Less so, off National.
In his speeches, Cunliffe likes to say a Labour Government he leads will not be afraid to use the powers of the state to intervene where a market fails. Well, someone else got there first.
His name is John Key. His sacrifice of his party’s ideology to cut a deal with Twentieth-Century Fox to ensure the further Avatar movies are filmed in New Zealand illustrated Key’s willingness to undercut Labour and leave that party punching at air.
The following day’s fiscal update also offered Labour little to complain about given its rosy growth forecasts and confirmation National remained on track for Budget surplus by mid-2015 – something which will give National huge cachet with voters.
The clincher came on Thursday. The Treasury’s growth forecasts have frequently turned out to be little more than mirages. Not so the latest official gross domestic product figures which had economic growth hitting a giddy 3.5 per cent in the September year.
Strong economic growth and a return to surplus will make an excellent base for re-election.