Labour is giving opposition politicians plenty of issues to exploit as it is stalled by ‘an end-of-year fug’

If  it’s  true  that Labour’s great run is  now  ending,  Opposition parties  should  be vibrating  with  new-found  confidence.

This  may be the   case   with  ACT,  but  so far  there has  been  little sign of  it in National.  In fact   judging  by  the  volume of  speculation  about  National’s leadership  among  the  political  cognoscenti  in  the  weekend  media, the  inner  circle of  the party is stressed  out over  its  leadership.

A  party on top of  its  game certainly would  be  scoring  some   big  hits. On the  other  hand  it  may  be  argued that  the  preoccupation with  Covid has stifled interest  in other political  issues.

Still, as  economic uncertainty  deepens, and  managing the  Covid  Delta  variant  exposes the  government’s vulnerability, the   country  is  looking   again for  something  different,  if only  to  measure  accurately how  the government is  performing.

Beyond  the  leadership issue, the  problem   for  National   is  that it  does  not speak  to  all  elements  of  its  base. It  appears  singularly  out of  tune with  the  regions  and particularly   with  farmers, who are  facing  vocal  lobby groups campaigning  against  what they call  “dirty  dairying”—  never  mind  it is dairy export earnings  that  are sustaining the country’s  balance of payments.

When John  Key  and  Bill English  led National, the  party  exuded a  broad  appeal  across the  country, even including segments of  Maoridom. That  broad  appeal has somehow  slipped  through  the  cracks.

With the  farming  regions   enjoying high  prices  and  Labour’s Damien  O’Connor  winning  credit for  securing a  free trade  deal  with the  UK,  there  is  nevertheless  plenty of  scope  for politicians  to  exploit in rising  inflation and  supply chain issues.

The government  has  been  busy  spraying  money  all over the place.  Even now it  is  talking up its  spending  programme, though  it  has  little  to  show  for it  in terms of  solving the housing shortage, or  improving the  position of lower  income groups.

Curiously  the  government has  encouraged   the  Reserve Bank governor   to  move  away  from his  primary goal  of  keeping inflation in check  with a  new  mandate  for employment.  Moreover, RBNZ governor Adrian Orr has taken it upon himself  to  seek a  leadership  role  on climate change.

The  cumulative effect is  now  so powerful it  is  no  wonder that  house prices, for example, are not only a  source of wonder  for  owners,  but of  anguish  for  first-home buyers.   But inflation,  if  it continues to  accelerate  as  it is  showing  every  sign  of  doing,  could  soon be  raging  out  of  control.

Already houses have reached   levels  no-one  could have guessed  they would reach 12  months  ago.

With  Labour  seemingly stalled,  as  one  critic put  it,  “in an end-of- year  fug”, the  opportunity  is  opening  up  for Opposition  parties to  make  themselves  more visible  even though the  mainstream  media  are still  heavily  focused  on  Covid.    But Covid  has thrown into relief the  failure  of the  government  – for  example  – to  make  any  headway on  key  issues  particularly in  transport.  Congestion at the  port of Auckland is a  key problem.

Then  there  has  been Labour’s bumbling  over its  light rail  commitment  in Auckland, with the  latest idea  coming  at a  cost of  around $14bn.

Given  Transport Minister Michael Wood’s  fiasco   on the $780m cycle  bridge  over the Waitemata, who believes   that light  rail  estimate?

In the  Wellington  region,  the  government  boasts of  spending $600m  upgrading the  rail  system, but fails to mention its  neglect of  one of the  most dangerous  stretches of  State Highway One  which  was  supposed  to  be  fixed  with  extension  for the  motorway  from  Otaki  to Levin. The  motorway plan  was  cancelled  by the then Transport Minister, Phil Twyford, and a  substitute  highway  has yet to  be  put  to contract.

Defence  is  another  sector   where  Opposition parties  should be  scoring  big  hits. Labour,  as  it customarily does,  goes for cuts  in Defence spending and  the  public  gets inquiries like  the one into  Operation  Burnham followed by headlines such as “Review takes  aim  at SAS leaders”.  Remember  that our   SAS  leaders  are rated  among the  finest  soldiers  in the  world.

The most  remarkable commentary  on how  Defence  is  regarded in  the term  of the  Labour  government  came  in the  wake of  the  Aukus defence arrangement, in which Australia  seeks  to   strengthen  its  security  against  the rising military  threat  of  China. Yet  when it  was  suggested   NZ   should  seek  membership  the  Ardern government blithely  waved the  idea  away because  Australia’s  aim  is  to  arm  itself  with nuclear submarines.

What  no-one mentioned  is  that NZ  will  miss  out on the latest  advances in  cyber  and  space  defence measures.

Managing Covid-19’s Delta variant has proven an almost impossible task, and just   as  many  in the team   of  five  million   have  tired  of  the  restrictions  imposed  for public  health  reasons, so too they may  be losing their enthusiasm   for  a  government   that   is  failing to  deliver on the  commitments  on  which it   entered  office.

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