It would be unfair to say that winning a second term was easy for National, because to lift your vote in Government is no easy thing to do. But the history of NZ is most Governments get a second term, coupled with an Opposition Leader who was so associated with the past. So the challenge was not so much to win, but to win with an ability to govern well – which has happened with a narrow 61 majority for National, ACT and United Future.
Winning a third term in 2014 is far harder, and I would regard National as the under dog at this stage. iPredict has Labour winning in 2014 at 53% and National at 47% and that is probably about right.
National needs to lose just 0.2% of the vote and it can only govern with the support of the Maori Party. Who knows what the Maori Party in 2014 might do, but I suggest that David Shearer is not as foolish as Phil Goff, and will not treat them as the enemy. Shearer was never part of that time in Labour that treated them as the last cab off the rank, and chose Winston in preference to them. They could go with Shearer in 2014.
But the Maori Party may not hold the balance of power. If National drops 3% in total, then NZ First would hold the balance of power. That is likely (but not certain) to see a Labour-led Government.Of course NZ First may implode again, as Peters is showing no sign of having changed his ways of bluster and bullshit – even over whether or not he had a fall.
So National are the under-dogs. It means that they will have to work incredibly hard to win a third term, and New Zealanders will have to be convinced they deserve it. This means the Government and Ministers must do far more than be competent administrators – they must push and drive reforms which clearly benefit New Zealanders. The welfare reforms are central to that. But so is trialling charter schools and bedding in national standards.
The economy will be front and centre. Sadly there will be very few votes in just doing what is necessary and getting the books back into surplus. At best National just won’t be punished for not achieving that. National will need to confront some of the harder issues such as housing affordability, and will have to make calls on do we leave mineral wealth in the ground or not. As I am typing this up from South Africa, I suspect locals here would be amused that we even have a debate in New Zealand about whether to mine or not.
National’s first term was about infrastructure. The second term is looking to focus on science and innovation. What will be the focus on a third term, if there is one – that voters will vote for? It has to be something that they feel couldn’t be done until the building blocks of the first two terms were in place.
Finally the left in the second term will talk a lot about poverty and income inequality as if they are the same thing. They are not. To take one example – China arguably has far greater income inequality than 20 years ago. But they also have 300 million less citizens in absolute poverty. National needs to own poverty reduction as an issue, and disentangle it from the socialistic goal of income equality which has failed in pretty much every state which has tried to legislate for it.
David Lange once famously called for a cup of tea for his Government. John Key needs to do the opposite. The pace of reform must increase, not slow. Voters want to see a Government confronting tough issues, and making decisions. They don’t want to just see a Government whose job it is to manage rather than lead.