Party con­fer­ences so pre­dictable

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

To an al­most com­i­cal ex­tent, the Na­tional Party’s an­nual con­fer­ence last weekend was a game of two halves.

The Satur­day ses­sions seemed to be de­voted to ter­ri­fy­ing the party faith­ful about the folly of treat­ing vic­tory in Septem­ber’s elec­tion as be­ing al­ready in the bag.

Party strate­gist and Min­is­ter of Ev­ery­thing Steven Joyce warned the con­fer­ence that Na­tional’s poll rat­ings were cur­rently two points lower on aver­age than at the same stage of the 2011 cam­paign, which had turned out to be a pretty tight con­test.

If that wasn’t mo­ti­va­tion enough, the dread­ful na­ture of a cen­tre left coali­tion was also spelled out to del­e­gates.

Could New Zealand sur­vive a rul­ing ca­bal of David Cun­liffe, Rus­sel Nor­man, Me­tiria Turei, Hone Harawira and Laila Harre …? Ap­par­ently not.

Yet as surely as day fol­lows night, the Sun­day ses­sions of­fered a deep, re­lax­ing bath of re­as­sur­ance.

‘‘Doesn’t it feel good to be a mem­ber of the Na­tional Party?’’ Prime Min­is­ter John Key asked del­e­gates, be­fore run­ning through a litany of his govern­ment’s achieve­ments.

Aus­ter­ity notwith­stand­ing, there was still room for a bla­tant elec­tion handout in the shape of an ex­tra $212 mil­lion in road­ing projects (paid for from last year’s as­set sales) to sweeten Na­tional’s im­age in re­gional elec­torates.

Such is the du­bi­ous na­ture of party con­fer­ences.

Af­ter six years in of­fice and with an es­ti­mated 280,000 chil­dren liv­ing in poverty, does Na­tional’s claimed re­moval of 30,000 chil­dren from the ranks of the wel­fare-de­pen­dent – their cur­rent well­be­ing un­known - re­ally count as an ‘‘un­sung story’’ of the cur­rent govern­ment, as claimed by Key?

Like any cor­po­rate bond­ing ses­sion, party con­fer­ences are usu­ally more about mo­ti­vat­ing the sales team than in prov­ing the value of the prod­uct.

This com­ing weekend, Labour’s con­fer­ence will be sim­i­larly try­ing to de­monise Na­tional’s own mot- ley coali­tion team: Key, Joyce, Colin Craig, the Act Party, the Maori Party etc.

Labour’s leader can also be ex­pected to tout the sig­nif­i­cance of a plumped-up cap­i­tal gains tax, and the bless­ings that a 3 point dif­fer­ence in tax rates for people earn­ing over $150,000 will al­legedly deliver.

In other words, the elec­tion cam­paign is mov­ing into a loud, Har­vey Nor­man phase of po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing. Voter turnout is un­likely to re­spond well to the rise in deci­bels.

In so­cial democ­ra­cies around the world, voter ap­a­thy is on the in­crease, be­cause vot­ers have learned from ex­pe­ri­ence that the brand dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion in po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing is rarely matched by bet­ter per­for­mance - re­gard­less of the elec­tion out­come.

Scep­ti­cism is a real prob­lem for Labour and its al­lies, who have pinned their hopes on mo­bil­is­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of new vot­ers – some young, some pre­vi­ously alien­ated – to bridge the 10-point gap that cur­rently ex­ists be­tween Na­tional and the cen­treleft bloc.

Party lead­er­ship may not be the only fac­tor that drives voter turnout, but Na­tional has an ob­vi­ous edge in this depart­ment.

Labour knows it only too well. As yet, it hasn’t been able to con­vince even a third of the elec­torate of its mer­its.

Some­how, if elec­tion 2014 is to be a gen­uine con­test and not a rout, David Cun­liffe has to be­come more widely viewed as a cred­i­ble agent of change.

His speech to this weekend’s Labour Party con­fer­ence isn’t Cun­liffe’s last chance to close that deal, but time is run­ning out.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.