Peter Dunne says the National Party will know that wide-eyed enthusiasm without anything to back it up is not what voters are seeking

Peter Dunne says the National Party will know that wide-eyed enthusiasm without anything to back it up is not what voters are seeking

By Peter Dunne*

Spare a brief thought for the National Party. If being the Leader of the Opposition is the worst job in politics, then being the party of Opposition is the worst state to be in.

No matter how inept the government in office, the Opposition is always on the back foot, reacting all the while to whatever the government is doing, while at the same time being expected to promote constructive, well thought-out, affordable alternatives.  And, even if the Opposition is able to develop some bold, new and attractive policy, then there is always the chance the government will act to nullify it, or simply steal it and implement it as its own.

Moreover, the government has the resources of the entire government bureaucracy behind it, whereas the Opposition has but a small handful of taxpayer-funded researchers and policy advisers at its disposal to match them.

It is always a very uneven contest, but the public nevertheless expects the Opposition to be able to fight the government on more or less equal terms.

After all, in politics, even proportional representation politics, there are no prizes for coming second. While MMP may well mean Parliament has become more representative, and put an end to the elected dictatorship that sometimes characterised single party majority governments under First Past the Post, our system of government is still a case of “winner take all” for those parties coming together to form governments today.

There is no doubt that as a liberal/conservative party National prospered under First Past the Post. In the 47 years from 1949 to advent of MMP in 1996, National was in power for 35 of them. Its combination of urban liberals and the provincial and rural sectors enabled it to tack skilfully between the two as far as policy was concerned, so establishing the popular impression that, unlike Labour with its union and intellectual base, National spoke for the New Zealand as a whole.

MMP and the advent of new political parties has disrupted that balance to some extent.

While National has been relatively successful in running multi-party governments under MMP (and governing for just over half the time), it has struggled to recapture the formula that made it so dominant in earlier years.

Although current polling shows it remains the most popular party in New Zealand – a position it has enjoyed now for over a decade – it would find it difficult to put together a majority government, were an election to be held today.

That is where the question of policy becomes both important and difficult for National. It is important because it is both a mark of where the Party stands, and the key vehicle to attract the support of the uncommitted voters it will need if it is to lead the next government. But it is also difficult because, in the current electoral circumstances, it has to appeal more strongly to those more conservative voters that drifted to New Zealand First at the last election, while not alienating its more liberal supporters in the cities.

National’s just released social services policy discussion paper lays out these tensions very clearly.

On the one hand, there are the hard-line measures about gangs and beneficiaries aimed at the bigot vote of New Zealand First, while on the other hand are more progressive and innovative measures like the social investment strategy promoted by former Prime Minister Bill English; the focus on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life; and, the introduction of a new money management system for vulnerable young people. And by stating some measures as firm policy, while others are more in the realm of ideas the Party wants feedback on, National will be hoping that not too much of it could be filched by the government if it were of a mind to do so. 

By releasing it during a normally quiet Parliamentary recess week, it will be hoping that the plan attracts good media coverage, so buying a little more protection from the “where’s your policy?” charge usually levelled at Oppositions a year out from an election. Above all, it will be hoping that one or two of the ideas it has announced so capture the public imagination to build up a good head of steam in the lead-up to the election, although that very remains very much to be seen.

One thing National will be conscious of is not falling into the trap the current government did by talking big in Opposition about its plans for housing, Auckland transport and mental health, amongst other things, but then, so obviously, not having a coherent plan to deal with any of them upon coming to office. It will know that wide-eyed enthusiasm without anything to back it up is not what voters are seeking.

So, National’s ongoing policy development is likely to be cautious and safe. If it errs on the side of being a little predictable it will be because the Party understands well the tram lines within which it is operating.

Labour’s grandiose talk and delivery failures means the electorate is likely to be a little more cynical about bold election promises next year. Therefore, National’s policies primarily need to keep its traditional constituencies intact, while doing whatever it takes to haul back those who have strayed in the past. It understands that if it can do that, it will be in a strong position to lead the next government.

National knows its previous formula has been a winning one. Why would it deviate from it now?

*Peter Dunne is the former leader of UnitedFuture, an ex-Labour Party MP, and a former cabinet minister. This article first ran here and is used with permission.

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The Gnats need a leader who doesn't come over as a complete drip ...

... sorry Soyman ... but you're costing the party alot of potential support from the electorate ...

Given how appalling Taxcindas government has been , the Gnats ought to be pulling 50 % or more in the polls . ..

I agree. They would stroll in with a more charismatic leader

Hard though to see, regardless of what they may say or change in the next twelve months, National, without a viable coalition partner, getting over the line on their own. John Key at his popular peak couldn’t manage that and this lot today are far weaker than National was then. Still the coalition may yet implode, if the Greens & NZF are not returned, then National will benefit from a virtual FPP election.

It really is wishful thinking that the Greens won't get back in. They're already polling around 7%, and in the runup to the election so long as they were polling above 4% enough Labour voters would vote Green to ensure they returned to parliament because Labour voters know they're sunk without the Greens also getting back in.

Even with Metiria's meltdown at the last election and Jacindamania they still got 6.3%.

Agreed totally, and their survival last year, in the face of all the shenanigans, is/was due to a dedicated percentage of the electorate that are compelled to vote Green, willy nilly. And that gives rise to another awkward situation in that a good majority of NZrs would be unsettled by the prospect of a government of just Labour & Greens. Thus, that is the portal for NZF, same as last election.

nailed it


The Nats need to come up with a governing strategy rather than just on their backsides and blatantly sell NZ off to the highest bidder. Their one trick pony is now lame.


that have have to get rid of the look of answering to their true leader and following his orders

Our former prime minister secured a meeting with Chinese premier Xi Jinping outside all normal diplomatic channels

... in all fairness to the Gnats , the Tugger is hanging around about as much as Helen is still lurking in the shadows around Labour .. . seems to be no biggie ...

Has Helen meet with Xi lately as well?

... not sure why you're obsessed with Sir Tugger meeting Ginsling ... could just be that the ANZ is the biggest Australian bank with branches in the PRC ...


Not obsessed - more like a deep deep dislike for the man and all he represents.

OK then .. we do have something in common ...

ANZ denied it had anything to do with them, and I think Air NZ said the same, but the Nats knew why he was there but weren't saying why.

is not just the ex leader acting as a go between to collect new orders ( and funds), its the having an MP of questionable training within their ranks
He was hand-picked by National Party president Peter Goodfellow to become an MP on its list in 2011, wooed directly by the former Prime Minister John Key and has been a key fundraiser for National among the Chinese community in Auckland.
sorry it does not pass the smell test for me

Lame, ir has a near terminal case of laminitis

Why do you need to be a NZF bigot to appreciate the policies on gangs and beneficiaries?

The gangs are criminal to the core and they visit misery on the lives of many people.

The beneficiaries National are trying to target are a fairly narrow group feckless women, deadbeat dads and directionless youths, all of whom are likely to shore up the strength of the gangs.

If we take their benefits, it will give them the choice to live as beggars or steal to feed themselves or at least go to jail where it is easier. The smart choice for them would then be to get more involved in organised crime. Is your business/industry going to give them a job when the benefit is cut? If not, what do you think will happen to them, and how will that affect the rest of us?

I really can't see how that will help the gang problem.

Not to mention how much this would all cost to implement.

For such a narrow group of the population, you can always rely on a politician to dedicate a lot of hot air to chasing them. A bit of dog whistle politics sometimes, it seems.

Would be great if the same politicians would be as obsessed with money laundering and tax evasion too!

I have no problem with getting hard on gangs, but what the heck to you think taking their benefits away is going to do? you guessed it more crime, good one Simon, do something meaningful to sort them out not this.

I tried to read some of National's policy ideas but gave up. If they can give a clear sense of direction in the three primary problem areas they stand a chance:
1 Immigration; the rate is too high and the deadly serious cultural issues are taboo.
2 Housing; too little, low quality, too expensive.
3 Foreign investment; muddled thought process that has hollowed out the country (see investment income deficit) by exporting its wealth. Capital inflow into an advanced economy is usually counterproductive. See Michael Pettis.

They did mention a two for one rule re new regulations, ie 2 old regulations die for each new one born. That is the sort of thing that could transform New Zealand over time.

I'd add to that a credible Environmental policy.

Present credible solutions on housing, immigration and the environment and Greens are gone, NZF is gone and National could govern alone.

And Simon Bridges could yet again screech from the govt side of the house "The environment's reign of terror is over" and Judith Collins could get back to the serious business of climate science denial and backfilling all the wetlands, because they are just swamps, don't you know, and she does not like them. You are all dreaming, all of those things you suggest for them to take on board are exactly the opposite of what they did for nine years.

Export the old Keurig trees first...then backfill those nasty swamps

Export the old Keurig trees first

Your autocorrect is suggesting it's time for a coffee?

Then for once in the useless life of auto correct, it is right!

It is right but it has unfortunately bad taste.

"They did mention a two for one rule re new regulations, ie 2 old regulations die for each new one born. That is the sort of thing that could transform New Zealand over time."

Except there really isn't that much fat to cut. You'll just end up with more balls ups, like NZTA not actually regulating their industry, or the ridiculous cap on "back office staff" in government departments that resulted in a massive consultancy bill and departments playing stupid paper games reclassifying back office staff as front-line so that they could hire more staff that they desperately needed.

"Moreover, the government has the resources of the entire government bureaucracy behind it"
But the Nats have all the resources of their Chinese government behind them, so they aren't quite so poor.

Don't forget all those millions coming from the NRA!

Exactly Government for hire with the Nats.

The Nats need to do something for young (below aged 40) middle and low-middle NZ.
Older middle NZ has done very nicely, but young middle NZ face some massive barriers, especially in terms of housing.

Anyone who hadn't yet bought a house got royally screwed by the Nats, those people want to remember that before putting the Nats back in again.

Percentage-wise, house prices rose more in the 9 years under the Clark Labour Government. You also can't ignore the facts that the Median House price in NZ is up 13.7% since the COL came to power and regions like Manuwatu are up 47%. Even Wellington is up 17%.

Inconvenient facts for the tribal left.

To the manic right - how much has Auckland gone up since the COL came in? Thats where 33% of NZ live.

Very little but I'm not sure posters like CMAT are going to vote left on the basis that he/she can save faster while still expensive house prices prevail. That aside 67% don't live in Auckland. Don't they count?

I think doing anything substantially meaningful for young middle and low-middle NZ necessarily means hurting older middle NZ, which Nats can't do if they want to win office.

Ditto for the Left. Tax reform e.g. CGT. How did that work out for COL voters? The TWG has already raked over the coals. What's left? It will be interesting to see what the parties will put forward in 2020. Personally, I'd look at some innovative way to allow Parents to co-sign with children for mortgages but not risk losing their houses during their lifetime if there is an issue.

Personally, I'd look at some innovative way to allow Parents to co-sign with children for mortgages but not risk losing their houses during their lifetime if there is an issue.

Surely that just adds fire to the demand side...thus pushing prices up.

So it's quite likely a politician will take that idea up, in fairness.

Some things, yes. But not all.
For example if the government built affordable housing en masse for FHBs, that would have minimal if any impact on older kiwis.
But then , the Nats wouldn't do that.
They will just rant on about RMA reform.