Reform unlikely under English
Bill English’s Cabinet shuffle brought 2016 to a suitably anticlimatic end.
Trump, Brexit and John Key’s resignation had already exhausted the public’s appetite for the unexpected.
The sight of the same old faces provided a preview of the steadyas- we-go approach we can probably expect from Chairman Bill.
It also meant everyone could get on with preparing for their own Christmas/New Year without having just seen English take his old family friend Nick Smith aside for a last goodbye, before having him shot at dawn.
At a time of goodwill, Smith’s expulsion would have been the political equivalent of putting down the family pet.
However, there is a downside though to being safe and predictable. Given the chance to innovate, English chose instead to leave the future captaincy of the health, education and foreign policy up in the air for nearly five months.
Whatever else that is, it isn’t dynamic leadership.
Still, English will have other chances to be decisive.
One can see the logic of calling an early election in July.
The May Budget is expected to contain a $2-3 billion package of tax cuts.
Clearly, National would prefer seeking an election mandate for tax cuts rather than over its stewardship of nine years of unmet need in housing, health and child poverty.
National has room to risk an early election call.
Recently, they enjoyed an eight per cent lead over the combined Labour/Greens vote and that underlines the problem facing the centre-left in 2017.
Try as it might to look like a credible alternative, the public hadn’t been shopping for one. Has that situation changed? The English/Bennett tag team has been selected to deliver policy continuity with the Key era.
Helpfully, the leading duo complement each other on a number of fronts but what’s lacking is any prospect of genuine policy innovation.
If there is to be a wild card, Gareth Morgan could provide it.
Although he may prove to be just a one trick pony, Morgan will be aiming to turn our relatively generous pension scheme – and its age of entitlement – into a major election issue.
Significant reform, however, seems unlikely.
After all, English has been around long enough to remember the last time National dabbled with means testing pensions, via the disastrous ‘‘surtax’’ that was finally scrapped in 1998.
A more likely gesture would be to extend the time someone has to be resident in New Zealand before qualifying for national superannuation.
Such a move would be more in the style we’re likely to experience this year. He’s not one for tackling the thornier political issues head on.