NZ politicians have been quiet over the holiday season, perhaps in the case of the Labour team, reflecting on the “year of delivery” and where it all went wrong.
But now we are into a new decade (one authority has already labelled it “the roaring 2020s”) and New Zealand cannot stay isolated in some sort of cocoon, no matter how much this may be desired.
Even those politicians who have succeeded in finding a peaceful beach on which to sun themselves will be formulating the strategies they hope will work for them in election year.
Many on the Labour side of the fence believe Jacinda Ardern has a fan base strong enough to carry the coalition to a second term. Here at Point of Order, we have encountered sufficient adoration within that fan base to consider that they will stay loyal when they cast their ballots.
And she is regarded as one of the most admired world leaders, isn’t she?
But as elections elsewhere have shown, particularly in the UK but also in Australia, constituencies which have never deviated from being rock-solid Labour for decades can turn decisively away from the party.
Party strategists may assess Labour in NZ does not face the kind of political trauma which afflicted their contemporaries in London or Canberra, but current polling trends indicate the 2020 election could be a close-run thing.
And there is a distinct problem to be faced after the so-called “year of delivery” did little more than yield a series of stuff-ups by ministers like Phil Twyford and Iain Lees-Galloway, grandiose but unfulfilled claims from the likes of Shane Jones and ( does one dare mention it?) the failure by Ardern herself to limit child poverty.
What kind of policies can Labour campaign on in 2020?
A new programme of affordable housing? Just don’t call it KiwiBuild.
How about fixing the health system after all those years of neglect (no, not the nine years of the Key-English government, but the last three).
Let’s see: what about new measures on mental health? Or can something be done about inequality?. Expansion of the fees-free policy for university students? Pledge an increase in the police force? Sure, the average citizen might say, but have crime rates fallen? Do people feel safer simply because there are more fresh-faced constables on the beat?
How about building some new highways? No, that wouldn’t resonate with voters who regard the lack of new road projects as one of the biggest failures of the Ardern-led coalition.
What about making NZ more prosperous? Could Labour find a formula to lift productivity?
The problem with issues like that is to present them in a way that voters find credible. It wouldn’t be easy, given the record since 2017.
Even where actions like lifting the minimum wage appeal to elements in Labour’s core base, there can be negative reactions in other sections, such as small business operators who find their profitability squeezed to vanishing point when the wage bill is raised by a Beehive diktat.
And many Labour voters among tradespeople are not happy when they see their hard-earned taxes diverted into spend-ups on beneficiaries who are reluctant to find work — particularly in places where employers have to rely on migrant labour to pick fruit or to staff retirement homes.
There will be considerable pressure on Finance Minister Grant Robertson to provide goodies in the pre-election budget. But would tax cuts—which would almost certainly have to be targeted, if they are to be a vote-winner—capture many votes outside Labour’s core base?
Tough going then for those that will be shaping Labour’s policy.
The drums can beat loudly over what the government has done on climate change. But if NZ politicians on the Left claim they are leading the world in reducing emissions, will the weather be any different next summer?
The evidence may be daunting even for those who like to think NZ can make a difference on global warming.
Clearly, Jacinda Ardern will have to work overtime dispensing those lovely hugs .
Hold on there: hasn’t the present government set a record for the working groups it set up, the royal commissions beavering away, and the endless reviews it has called for?
Now there’s an achievement for the history books. Not perhaps one to rank with those of the Savage-Fraser , or the Lange-Douglas eras. But in its own way, hard to beat.