Platforms matter, but the wannabes standing on them are more diverting.
Policy, not personality, thundered Gareth Morgan – and promptly guaranteed the latter would drown out the former by adding ad hominem abuse.
If we didn’t like his calling Labour’s leadership change “lipstick on a pig”, perhaps we would prefer “cosmetic” or “facelift” or “polishing a turd”?
It was a calculated spot of trolling designed to get his Opportunities Party back in the headlines. Result: discussions on TOP policy, 0; discussions on Morgan’s personality, still counting. The opinionated philanthropist does politics the way sergeant-majors do drill. His hectoring only gave his own pet hate more tank fuel: that personality interests the electorate more readily than policy.
His outbursts betray an understandable envy of the attention Jacinda Ardern has commanded since taking over Labour. People have been happy to listen to her because, like Sir John Key, she seems an engaging, sunny, caring and good-humoured person with whom they can imagine enjoying a conversation. If they wanted to get bawled at and told how stupid they’ve been, they’d rather go to a Gordon Ramsay experience than a TOP meeting, because at least they’d get a feed. If TOP, now breasting 4% in the polls, gets into Parliament, Morgan can thank some assiduous campaigning by his engagingly zany offsider, economist Geoff Simmons, who talks as though he wants to do things for people, whereas Morgan seems itching to do things to them.
SAME OLD, SAME OLD
The eternal election conundrum is that policy is the whole point of the exercise, but it can bore and baffle. Head-to-head debates can make a watchable contest of policy issues but often generate more heat than light.
Morgan is right that Ardern’s is mostly the same old Labour Party with the same set of policies that have lost it three elections. What he underestimates is how vital the personality of the leader is to getting people to listen to those same old policies, or any policies at all. He also overlooks the electorate’s appetite for change, which has lacked a marshalling force until now.
Between selfie queues, Ardern now faces nothing but policy grilling, especially since the official tax-spend starting gun went off on Wednesday with the statutory pre-election fiscal update. The economy was revealed to be softening a little, leaving less room for any party to make new spending promises. That puts Labour on the spot for portending tax hikes (though not on income) and National for presiding over slowing productivity growth and static wages.
Labour’s Achilles heel is its “leave it to an expert panel later” response to detailed tax questions. Voters won’t know before the election how their incomes and business affairs will be affected, only that a Labour-led government will “make the system fairer”. Fairer to whom, at whose cost?
However reasonable Ardern sounds when she says “wait and see what the experts say”, it’s a hard vacuum to defend after nine years’ policy
Morgan underestimates how vital the personality of the leader is.
wonkery. Ardern can hardly say out loud she’s not satisfied with the delay-button fiscals she inherited from Andrew Little, but that’s what she’s stuck with. It’s much quicker to change leaders than fiscal policies.
National’s weak flank is the dubious quality of our economy’s growth.
Take out the “broken windows” effect – the activity generated by Canterbury’s rebuild – and the construction- and consumption-wrought growth from booming immigration and population, and there’s not much growth based on productivity. Many people can’t see the country’s growth
reflected in their own
circumstances. Ministers love reciting our favourable OECD rankings, but voters by now understand these bragging rights are underwritten by depressed wage growth and the precarious “gig economy”.
They’re also coming to understand that National’s litany of “new” projects and budget boosts are things that should have been started years ago and are overdue because its Government allowed rapid population growth without planning for it. Still, voters of a mind to fault National there may decide it’s nevertheless the more competent party to make the best of things from here. Bill English was the Finance Minister who got us through the global financial crisis. Ardern has only got her party through a poll crisis.
Curiously, though, National’s response to the new, “game-on” mood has been to revert to its (nonwinning) Northland by-election blueprint: make announcement after announcement, never with fewer than six and preferably nine zeros in the first sentence, and hope voters don’t notice they’ve all been announced before at least twice, and the fine print says “in five years”. The idea seems to be to convey business as usual with the added momentum of a faster-flapping chequebook. Finance Minister Steven Joyce continues to bestride the country – like the Colossus of Roads, as a Twitter wit observed – pre-spending his surplus.
Eventually, this looped announcement reel just becomes white noise. Few people study the details of each X-billion-dollar project rolled out over each Y-year period – and those who do know “roll-out” means “later”. Much later. Maybe never. Some of those by-election bridge extensions have progressed little further than the whiteboard two years on.
As for this week’s Roads of National Significance, part II (aka the two RoNnies): none of the 10 posited highways are new plans and most are still at the engineers’ head-scratching stage. As an election bribe, roads are the worst kind of jam tomorrow: mostly someone else getting jam sometime in the next 10 years – and only after bowling houses and habitats, with a potential net loss of votes.
Extra cash for mental and dental health and doctors’ visits is more immediately welcome but raises the question: why wait nine years when the need for this has been obvious all along and/or National till now insisted there was adequate provision?
Then came “10 new trade deals with 47 countries … better access to 2.5 billion consumers!” Again, old news – and given geopolitical realities, mostly still pie in the sky, with a tariff on the pastry, filling and air space for our impertinence.
But all of the above are subject to who gets the ultimate Beehive selfie with whom. If New Zealand First holds the balance of power, with its genuinely new plans to renationalise electricity and take GST off food … how would one acronymise the Mother of All Fiscal Updates?
Steven Joyce bestrides the country like the Colossus of Roads, as a Twitter wit observed.
TOP blokes: Geoff Simmons, far left, and Gareth Morgan.