Acclaim for the PM boosts Labour in the polls – but voters may not be so kind as the recession bites

Reports   have been   circulating in Wellington  of  sampling  by  pollsters    which  show   support  for  Labour climbing   into  the 49-51%   range  and  for  National  slumping to  the  low 30’s.

To those enraptured by the  “kindness”  of the  Prime  Minister    and  impressed  by  the government’s  performance  during  the  Covid-19 pandemic, a  result like that would be  no   surprise.  Many  New Zealanders rejoice in the plaudits which overseas media heap on Jacinda  Ardern  as a  “world leader”   who  is  outperforming  her  peers in other countries.

An influential American magazine, The  Atlantic,  described Ardern as maybe the  most  effective  leader  on  the  planet.

In contrast, there is consistent criticism  of  Opposition   Leader  Simon  Bridges  from some  media   figures.   Left-wing  blogs come alive with speculation  of  a  coup   any   day   within the  National  caucus.

So is the forthcoming  election  one  that  an  Opposition  party   might  want to lose?

If a  global  slump  lies ahead  and proves to be  worse  than the Great Depression nearly a  century  ago, NZ as a trading  nation  will be   hit hard.  The   queues  already visible  outside  charity foodbanks  will  stretch   for kilometres.

Whether  the halo effect  cultivated  around  Labour’s  leader  can be sustained  through  to the  election  will be a test   for  those   who have promoted it..

Should the effect persist, the impact might be more severe on NZ First  and the  Green  Party than on  National.

If the  majority of  New Zealanders  agree the  handling  of the  Covid-19 pandemic  has been so  outstanding that Ardern   and her henchman, Grant Robertson, deserve   another  term,  their numbers would include  many  who previously  voted for NZ First  or the  Greens.   Both  those minor   parties have  been   virtually  invisible   during  the   Covid-19  crisis.

The  Ardern   lustre   has  left them  very  much in the shade and it  may be  difficult for them  to  get back into the  political  spotlight.   They can hardly  compete    with  Labour   in the  field of helicopter money.   And  who,  apart  from the  most dedicated  climate change  warrior,  will  listen to the  Greens   proposing  more  ambitious emission  targets when many  New Zealanders  are  lining  up  for   food  parcels,  or  seeking  a  supplementary   benefit to  tide the family over  to the  arrival  of  the next payment?

It  seems both NZ First and the  Greens will be unable to  out-shout Labour if  and  when  NZ  succeeds  in  moving  back  from the  Covid-19 crisis  to return to  what  most voters see as  normality.

NZ  First  may  well  seek  to  re-ignite   provincial  enthusiasm  for   pet  projects   like  shifting  the port of  Auckland  to   Northland,  and the Greens  to  put  new  life  into  KiwiRail,  but  these  may  no longer   excite  their  onetime  supporters.

As  the  NZ  Initiative’s  Dr  Oliver  Hartwich  told  the  Epidemic Response  Committee this week, the  formula being touted – requiring central banks to create unimaginable sums of money – can easily deliver the opposite of monetary stability.

Especially in a crisis, the public must know it can trust the independence of the Reserve Bank and its commitment to long-term price stability.  New Zealanders must be able to trust in the steadiness of economic policy…

“The last things we need are policy uncertainty, political surprises and monetary experiments.What we do need is a recovery based on sound economic principles”.

Assuming NZ can do  what no other  country  has  done in  eliminating   Covid-19,   Labour  strategists    will pursue   the presentation  of   Jacinda  Ardern  as a  global leader   who  can articulate an  economic  programme   and deliver  on it.

Delivery?  That  may well trigger   memories  of   2019 and what  Ardern   said   would  be a  “year of  delivery” on issues  like  homelessness  and  child poverty.

There could be high  risk in reminding voters  of  the KiwiBuild joke and the litany of other   policies  that  went   belly-up.  And will  David  Clark  still  be there  as    living  testament of an  astute  performer  in the health portfolio?

More fundamentally, is it   a  winning  narrative  first to exaggerate the  catastrophic  number of  deaths  likely from the coronvirus,  striking panic  into  the population,   and  then to claim “We saved you”?

That narrative  will not  resonate  with  small  business  owners   whose  dreams have been  shattered  by  the way the government   has operated  in the Covid-19  lockdown. Already many  are  convinced  the government’s  lockdown rules   have  been  far  too stringent,  an over-reaction  to  academic  modelling  that  was  wildly   inaccurate.

They are  asking   why   NZ  didn’t  follow   Australia’s  example  in  allowing  small and  medium  businesses  to continue  operating .

Then there is the problem with the  word  “kindness”.   It worked very well  for the  Prime  Minister   as  she steered the country through  the threatened  crisis.   But  how   will  that  go  if  unemployment   reaches  10% or  more of  the  workforce?

The danger  for the PM  and her ministers  is  that hundreds  of thousands  of  voters   may come to believe   they were  hoodwinked  into  being confined  in  their  cells  for the duration.

That belief,  if  mixed    with  socialist  policy solutions  for the  blitz  on  the economy  subsequent  to  the  pandemic,  could   prove a    fatal  political  cocktail.  The  record  shows  the  Ardern  coalition  carries too  much deadweight  in Cabinet   when it comes to framing  and implementing  policy.

Peter Dunne   summed it up  neatly:

Critical to this whole process of crisis management is there being an actual crisis to manage.  That has been clearly the case in places like the US, Britain, Italy and Spain, for example, as the numbers of cases and deaths have been spiralling out of control and the public reaction has been one of desperate panic.

“While the potential impact for NZ was just as serious, the perverse consequence of acting early to avert the extent of the crisis has been that the extremes seen overseas have been averted. But an inevitable consequence is that some now question whether there was ever a crisis here in the first place”

What won’t  escape voters  is that  the  billions of  dollars    being spent  by the government as a  result of its decision to  fight  the pandemic in the  way   it did   will have to  be repaid,  not  just  by the  current generation of   taxpayers but by future  generations — and the  prosperity  which New Zealanders were  enjoying just a few  months  ago  may  not   return    any  time   soon.

So,   as   voters  approach the  ballot  box to cast their votes,  will   phrases like  “ Be  kind”  and  “we are  all  in this  together”   still be ringing in  their  ears?





One thought on “Acclaim for the PM boosts Labour in the polls – but voters may not be so kind as the recession bites

  1. I am reminded of Winston Churchill who was adored by his Country for strong leadership in WW2.
    After Victory in Europe, 7 May 1945 an election was held on 5th July 1945 and Churchill was out!!!

    The man who had led Britain in war was not seen as the man to lead the nation in peace

    maybe for NZ the quote should be
    The Woman who led us through the Covid19 Crisis, is not the person to lead the nation to rebuild.


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