National’s tac­tics pay­ing off

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

At this point, 17 months out from the next elec­tion, National has the lux­ury of two con­tra­dic­tory mes­sages about the Op­po­si­tion’s cred­i­bil­ity as an al­ter­na­tive govern­ment.

We have al­ready seen the first phase of the scare-the-vot­ers sce­nario.

That’s the one where a weak and in­de­ci­sive Labour lead­er­ship is pulled left­wards by an al­legedly rad­i­cal Green Party, to the point where Greens co-leader Rus­sel Nor­man winds up as Fi­nance Min­is­ter and as a con­se­quence the wheels of com­merce grind to a halt.

If that tac­tic doesn’t work, the op­po­site mes­sage is also nudg­ing its way into the po­lit­i­cal spot­light.

It arises from the fact that Labour’s po­ten­tial al­lies in Govern­ment – the Greens and New Zealand First – have al­ways been ba­si­cally in­com­pat­i­ble.

Down the years, New Zealand First leader Win­ston Peters has been mas­terly at us­ing his hos­til­ity to the Greens to twist Labour to his own tac­ti­cal ad­van­tage and he could well suc­ceed in do­ing so again next year.

Ul­ti­mately, Helen Clark ended up choos­ing Peters’ party over the Greens to form a govern­ment. David Shearer may do like­wise, leav­ing the Greens on the cross­benches with nowhere else to go but to vote with a Labour- led govern­ment from which they will have been ex­cluded, in any mean­ing­ful pol­icy sense.

Spooked by be­ing por­trayable as left wing, Labour may choose Win­ston one more time.

In the com­ing months, one can ex­pect to see National’s strate­gists busily por­tray­ing the present govern­ment as the safe op­tion to a Labour Party that will ei­ther be:

(a) pulled left­wards by those flaky Greens or

(b) pulled right­wards by that flaky Win­ston Peters.

As a govern­ment- in- wait­ing, Labour risks be­ing painted as be­ing ei­ther too rad­i­cally left wing or too con­ser­va­tively right wing, es­pe­cially on the so­cial is­sues dear to Peters’ heart.

In one sense, this as­pect of National’s re-elec­tion strat­egy is the usual ‘‘stick with what you know’’ sales pitch of any ad­min­is­tra­tion near­ing the end of its sec­ond term and real­is­ing that the elec­torate is feel­ing dis­il­lu­sioned but gun shy about the po­lit­i­cal al­ter­na­tives on of­fer.

The fact that National can hope to de­pict Labour as the pull-toy for the Greens on one hand and New Zealand First on the other, is a sign of the prob­lem that Labour leader David Shearer con­tin­ues to be.

It is all too easy for Shearer’s op­po­nents to por­tray him as an empty ves­sel for his ad­vis­ers – or po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ence – to fill.

When Prime Min­is­ter John Key first raised the spec­tre of an al­legedly ul­tra-left Green Party dom­i­nat­ing Labour, the si­lence from the Labour camp was deaf­en­ing.

Pre­sum­ably, some tac­ti­cal ge­nius in Shearer’s of­fice thought it smart not to rise to Key’s bait.

Ul­ti­mately, it was left to Rus­sel Nor­man to de­liver a speech to the Greens’ an­nual con­fer­ence that, rather un­con­vinc­ingly, tried to liken Key to the au­thor­i­tar­ian fig­ure of Robert Mul­doon, some­one whom few vot­ers un­der 45 would re­call.

Cur­rently, since nei­ther the Greens nor Labour seem able to mount a con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment that some right-wing ex­trem­ists are al­ready oc­cu­py­ing the Bee­hive, National’s strate­gists must be rub­bing their hands.

If they can win this round, how much eas­ier will it be to sell a mes­sage that a vote for Labour next year will be a vote for Win­ston Peters?

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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