Peter Dunne says while Covid-19 has proved to be an unexpected boon for a previously struggling Labour Party, fresh unforeseen events could yet disrupt the electoral cycle in a more unpredictable way

Peter Dunne says while Covid-19 has proved to be an unexpected boon for a previously struggling Labour Party, fresh unforeseen events could yet disrupt the electoral cycle in a more unpredictable way

By Peter Dunne*

Cynical and disconcerting as his comments may appear to be, Labour and advertising guru Sir Bob Harvey is probably correct when he says that Labour does not need to campaign to win this year’s election.

By taking the position that managing the Covid-19 response is more pressing than the looming election, the Prime Minister has in reality turned the election into a referendum on the government’s handling of the pandemic, rather than a genuine contest of ideas between competing political parties. And in view of the high levels of support for that being recorded by the opinion polls that is likely to be a winning strategy.

It is often said that the power of incumbency hands a huge advantage to governing parties come election time. They are, after all, the ones in power with the resources at their disposal to make things happen, whereas the Opposition parties, no matter how well organised, presented or resourced, are just another group of politicians craving political office and making dramatic promises accordingly.

An incumbent, presenting a “business as usual” approach, always looks in control and on top of things, and therefore comes across as more reassuring to the public, than an ambitious, pestering Opposition, desperate for office. So, as Sir Bob observes, if a government is in that position it makes absolute sense for it to play the continuity and business as usual cards as boldly as they can.

So far all the big promises this election cycle have come from the National Party. Some of its infrastructure promises are bold and uncosted aspirations rather than likely realities at this stage. That is what could normally be expected, but in the current environment there is a risk of their looking too grandiose and dramatic, compared to the government’s so far more pared back Covid-19-centric approach. While New Zealanders should properly be concerned about what is on offer for the future of the country, it appears the country is still too seared by the Covid-19 experience of recent months to want to take big visions seriously.

This caution is reinforced by the situation in Victoria, and now statements from the Director-General of Health and the public health eminences that there will be a recurrence of community transmission in New Zealand at some stage. Once again, the cautious “better the devil you know” motto seems to be the one finding favour with the public, to the government’s advantage, but so long as nothing goes wrong.

With just over six weeks to the election, and Parliament about to be dissolved, the government’s focus, as its first priority, will be managing the situation till then. And they would be mad not to be so focussed – after all governments want to be re-elected.

The Prime Minister and her senior Ministers have developed prudent Covid-19 control personas over the last few months, leaving them looking focused and assured (and in some cases, more than a little relieved to have this as their priority ahead of things like Kiwibuild, and Auckland light rail, where their record has been much less spectacular). To paraphrase the Prime Minister’s own 2017 slogan, they know they can do this.

In the circumstances, aided and abetted by its own dramas, the National Party looks leaden and flat footed by comparison. Its policy announcements so far look contrived and a little hard to believe. It is a soul-destroying position to be in, but the Leader of the Opposition has no alternative but to soldier on and hope to build on the positive personal progress she has been making in the opinion polls.

The biggest risk to Labour’s re-coronation cruise comes not from other political parties, but from external circumstances.

Just as a virus that came from nowhere has proved to be an unexpected boon for a previously struggling Labour Party, fresh unforeseen events could yet disrupt the electoral cycle in a more unpredictable way.

The government will be keenly aware of these risks, both to the country as a whole, and its reputation in particular if anything goes awry in the next few weeks. That is why there will be no movement before the election on matters such as freeing up borders with either the Cook Islands or any other Covid-19 free Pacific state before the election. Nor will there be any movement on letting in foreign students, or any reduction in current border control and quarantine rules.

The last thing the government wants before the election is community transmission of Covid-19 occurring here, let alone any suggestions that specific government actions have been the reason for that occurring. Even worse, would be a situation requiring a return to some form of lockdown. The political consequences of such an outcome would be most uncertain, as would the far more serious consequences of Covid-19 becoming established in the community.

So, while Sir Bob’s shrewd assessment should be respected and cannot be dismissed, there are risks involved in not having some new policies to unveil at election time, especially if the Covid-19 focus somehow gets derailed. Therefore, it might just pay for Labour to have a couple of policy aces up its sleeve, nevertheless, just in case.

*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.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.



Good piece.
Yes they will have a couple of policy aces up their sleeve, but no need for them to rock the boat much at all.
I think they have been quite cunning. They have sneaked through a few major pieces of legislation without uproar that will provide a platform for their urban development and housing goals next term.

Yes, those are welcome changes.

National ought to focus on good legislative initiatives they started when last in charge, that Labour have subsequently failed to pick up on - such as this work from 2016;

Because no progress has been made, in 2019 the Auditor General got in on the act pointing out that we desperately need to protect more areas of our territorial sea;

I suspect it was not progressed by Labour given the NZF coalition. It's a perfect policy pick up for National (or Labour!) given it has no associated new borrowing/capital cost.

And it would be an ever-so-popular policy - as previous surveys suggest;

Completely pointless to have a result with no mention of the questions asked. Leftie spin.

The question (i.e., policy preferences) were asked in that Colmar Brunton survey. If that's what you meant.

Yes agreed.
Also on the energy/ electricity/ climate change front announcing the $30m business case investigating pumped hydro advanced another significant issue without uproar.
My summary piece here describes its importance.

That's a very well written piece, thanks for sharing!


This way, Ardern doesn't have to defend her track record and justify voters trusting her to actually do what she promises, because she isn't promising anything. It's kind of brilliant in a way, but it does finally hammer the nail in the coffin of the 2017 Election manifesto as an example of political 'bait and switch' and render the country to another term of stagnation, congestion and lost opportunities.

It is brilliant, because Ardern and Co have realised the lack of strong opposition. Strong opposition is essential for a strong democracy. The current lot in opposition are stale and out of touch, paving the way for Labour to "take the policy out of politician". Crazy times.

To bring National out of its historical low-point, their leadership needs to quit obsessing over failed neoliberal policies that most NZers have moved on from and promise changes, not quick-fixes.
The situation is dire for National when centre to centre-right voters like myself are more inclined to voting 'no-policy' Labour in September than 'broken-policy' National.

or voters like myself who is very likely to ditch Winston First


So it is recognised by all and sundry that NZ is in crisis and it will worsen. Surely it is the duty of those in government those aspiring to be in government, to provide policy of some substance to the electorate of what to expect, how it will affect them. A government cannot ignore that basic duty simply because they deem themselves to be a shoe in, at the next election. The people have both a need and a right to know. To deny it, is immoral.


Can't be held accountable for not delivering on your promises if you don't make any promises. Very cunning political manoeuvre.


Look at their previous promises that turned into disasters. A pity there is no opposition holding them accountable for their failures in the run up to the election.


There should be a "none of these candidates are fit for parliament" option on the ballot, and if it gets over 50% everyone gets fired and we have a do over.

Make parties supply an unranked list of members who can be selected at random in proportion with the party votes? Make it so you can vote along party lines but not for the idiots in charge at any given time? I mean... I don't hate it?

The Student Union at University had a no confidence vote. Any candidate under the no confidence vote would not be eligible. When the majority voted no confidence for the student president there needed to be a second election and the candidates needed to front with convincing policies.

Another year the Student Union's cat won the position. The cat won based on popularity rather than policy.

We need a party that represents no confidence so that MPs will actually put in some effort.

Er, but isn't that Labour? With Ardern being the cat?

Given the lack of fresh policy that's a fair comparison.

Beyond the result needs to be a new parliament with only 50 members acting each for 100,000 voters and required to randomly sample 1000 electors . That sample result aggregated with the other 49 samples providing a direct democracy. In addition regional and district councils should be abolished. Arguments that the people dont have the skills is refuted by looking at the skills demonstrated by the current crop of politicians

Just exactly what is needed. Might wake a few Politicians up. Although I doubt it


Oh my ...........If Labour wins , .we could have a Government with NO PLAN or STRATEGY WHATSOEVER !!!!!


Since when has any government delivered on their "plan or strategy"

Their campaign will probably be remembered as the only one that didnt contain any lies....

I am not actually bothered by this - compares favorably with the "plan" and "strategy" they brought last time round.

Maybe, but there has been though some signals from the oracle, via the Greens & of late the public servants union, ie tax the wealthy. Straw man tactics. Soften the market first, then deliver a lesser blow.

That's comforting for those of us that have existing privilege but if those without vote for this lot then they only have themselves to blame.

For benchmarking purposes summarise for us the plan National had for the period 2014-2017

Right wing don't like government or planning. Now you complain there isn't one


Ardern is trusted.
Collins (except by rabid Right) is not
All over bar the shouting


Compared to Kiwibuild, Immigration, Claire Curran, Dr David Clark, Sroubek and Bouchani ....
Collins has been given an armchair ride by the media and the press gallery
No mention of Oravida Ltd, Oravida Kauri Ltd, Ruakaka Kauri Ltd, Kauri Ruakaka Ltd, Kauri Connect Ltd, Kauri NZ Investment Ltd, Kiwi Dairy Industry Ltd (see Oravida Property Ltd), fracture of the fuel pipe-line by kauri diggers, owner of the property still remains silent to this day.


"Compared to Kiwibuild" Are you taking the mickey? How many 'resets' did Labour have? The town hall reset? The year of delivery? The Kiwibuild reset? All breathlessly reported by the media in their favour, of course. Kiwibuild has been very conveniently forgotten. Twyford has been promoted up the Labour list. What 'scrutiny' of any real kind has Labour faced for something that wasn't an ill-advised office liaison or mountain-biking trip?

E: Sweet post-reply post-edit btw.

John Key's 2008 promise to fix the property crisis was silently reset every day for 9 years
That's 3285 resets

Keep insisting your favourite team's brand of 'neglect' is better than anyone else's while you play the victim card because they're getting held to account over stuff they actually promised they'd do.

Nice try. House prices didn't rise above Labour's 2008 levels till 2012. The rose from 2012-2016, then stopped as construction capacity finally caught up. GFC killed the home construction industry, and earthquakes took away new build capacity. It took 6 years for it to grow back to it's former size as so many tradies were soaked up by rebuild or had left NZ for higher pay in Aussie. Growing construction industry capacity is always very slow due to the capital and skills that need to be acquired.

Ah yes, I'd almost forgotten that Judith's kauri digger cut all the fuel to the airport for a few weeks! Classic.


Labour has done a phenomenal job at selling the notion that Covid is the only issue that matters, it has dealt with Covid extremely well and this has hidden any and all other shortcomings as trivial (Kiwibuild, immigration, poverty etc…).
I agree for Labour it is best to continue talking up the risks of Covid all day long, every day and not delve into any other issues, this will give them an electoral win

So what's the alternative; Let Crusher Collins fling our boarders open and welcome in the coronavirus in the name of free enterprise. We all know that immigration and money laundering ran rampant under National.

Can you tell me what immigration and money laundering changes Labour made?

Yes glad yo asked: From the 2018; Lawyers, Accountants etc.. Basically facilitators of money laundering had to comply with new AML regulations. The ones for Real Estate Agents got delayed to Jan 2019 because they kicked up a fuss and didn't want to comply about the enforced the Anti Money Laundering laws. Since the laws that National had were weak and pointless.

Here's more info from the NZ Justice website:

Those AML changes were in legislation passed under the National government and given assent over a month before the 2017 election.

I doubt it considering that National wants to "water down" and dump such laws. Remember this headline: The 'way over the top regulations' National wants to dump. "National wants to reduce red tape if elected in 2020 by scrapping 100 regulations it considers "way over the top", in its first six months."

And even recently: National says cutting red tape will bolster businesses facing Covid-19 threat. " He said it would get rid of 100 regulations in its first six months and for every new regulation introduced, two would be removed. This echoed a policy introduced by the Trump administration in 2016."

Yes, I wondered what he meant by "simplify anti-money laundering rules" - odd given they are the rules they wrote.

Sorry, can you clarify this 'doubt'? You have ascribed credit for a piece of legislation to Labour despite it being enacted and assented a month before the election was even held. What is there to doubt? Is the date of the asset or the 2017 election something that is arguable?

Nah I think you're fibbing. National wouldn't push through more rigorous Anti Money Laundering legislation that would actually put a stop to the property party would they. Also they have clearly stated that they want to remove such laws (See above links) and remove the Foreign Buyers Ban.
Every one knows that National are corrupt and will happily sell off NZ to the highest bidder.

Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Amendment Act 2017 Public Act
2017 No 35
Date of assent 10 August 2017

Where in your links did they say they specifically wanted to repeal AML rules?

If you want to just make stuff up about stuff like AML and finance then you're probably on the wrong website.

National would have removed it as an extra piece of regulations that they didn't need! Why did they wait to the very end of their tenure to actually do anything about it? They had 9 YEARS to introduce effective Anti Money Laundering laws. The AML regulation had to be enforced by Labour under Labour not National. And would you like to explain why National want to remove the Foreign Buyers Ban?

Obviously you are just as corrupt as National are since you belong to them. I've already sent you links on the actual legislation details. :)
Not surprising that National are plummeting in the polls.

CJ, most of us learned to stop digging the hole when caught out in primary school. If you want to argue on the internet with more credibility than a 10 year old, suggest you do the same.

Didn't they teach you to try actually making a valid point rather then just being abusive ST. Is that all you can do. Your side still isn't winning in the polls. :)

Just trying to speak to your level mate.

Nahh that would actually involve making a valid comment. You are just a National troll loosing in the polls.

Hilarious that you think anyone who calls you out is a National troll. I haven't said a single positive thing about the National party on this site or in real life, and I doubt I ever will at the rate they are going. But nah, anyone who you don't like must be one of those idiots on the other team, huh?

Yawn, You're still trolling.

Careful mate, don't hurt your back with all that goalpost-shifting you're doing. I think the blokes at Eden Park usually have to use a crane. Don't worry though, you can just make something up whenever anyone confronts you with actual, objective reality.

Actually your so called version of reality back fired on you, You just haven't comprehended it yet. :P

Which version of reality? The one where people credit Labour with passing National legislation, or a real reality?

Given that the majority of NZers associate Covid 19 with JA,the reappearance of these warning adverts make u wonder.
Great advertising for Labour.
Say nothing,do nothing,hear nothing and the election is over.

Yes those adverts reappearing and Ashley Bloomfield saying when and not if there is a community breakout of Covid has me wondering if we are being told the full story.

You're Gerry Brownlee, and I claim my $5!

Oops listed twice, where is delete. As above duh

they are only up against ,
open the borders, high immigration, lets sell our houses to people overseas and
build roads and build tunnels and build more roads and lets do even more roads

so no new thinking at all by national nothing to make someone go that's sounds like a good idea
so labour don't need any policy just look after the border and make sure covid does not come in

Seems like John Key is trying to write National some policy from the sidelines.

He's getting more headlines than Judith with his relax border restrictions, bring back wealthy int'l students who can pay for their own isolation and let rich Americans buy up houses.


Such a limited thinker, isn't he.

Is worked for him for a while I guess.

He's a trader. What do you expect. He's a perfect example of the Merchant Right.

Interesting phrase - certainly fits.

I think he'd drumming up business for ANZ private wealth. The fact that it may coincide with what national already want to do is a bonus.

I reckon he's been given the word at ANZ to work a bit harder.

All Labour has to do is maintain the squeeze on crazy immigration levels (Covid is the perfect excuse), and continue to stop laundering and sell off to NZ to foreign interests (foreign buyers ban). The facts that Nats ex leader is calling that this needs immediate reversal shows it is critical to the pump it up economy (aka banks profits...whats his new job again?) , and the Nats are following along.

That alone will absolutely see them in opposition again. Nats are blind to the obvious.

You would think that National would have by now realized that most NZ people want their children to be able to afford their own home. Letting both high immigration and selling off NZ assets is not a vote winner. I guess National are stuck in self interested greed mode!

The fact they can't muster even a token commitment to the FBB is both infuriating and mystifying. It's costing them a squidload of votes.

Agreed. All the Winston votes last time were ex national voters pissed off with to much immigration and selling our sovereign interests out. Pretty sure the Govt's job is to protect the interests of NZ tax paying citizens, not bank super profits. By pushing the landlord leverage bank profit, foreign sell off at the expense of the average taxpayer, they are doomed to get another three years on the opposition benches.

National do seem to have lost the plot. Not sure the COL ever had one, mind, apart from the desperate need to be in power, whatever the cost ($1,000,000,000 a year for Jones to spend). Which is sort of what this article is saying. Is this the result of MMP?

Where does it lead? Is this a form of Hayek's observation that if you let the "experts" (in this case the civil servants) run things, then not a lot gets done. Eventually this leads to the call for a "strong man" who will get things done.

bring on Judith

So what were the 200 odd working groups over last 3 years for? Obviously no policy developed as Labour go into the election policy free - just handing out lollies to their mates in the form of do-nothing jobs to provide cover and excuses for the govt doing nothing. Sir Humphrey Appleby would be so proud.

Exactly. Without policy, the politicians hand executive power to the civil servants, who are clever and competent staff officers, but not great commanders.

Most of which got 100% of their pay, regardless of whether they worked during the lock-down.

The question to ask is "Will Labour work ?" (pun not intended).

They do have policy
Economic - JA will spin straw in to gold
Transport - JA will teach us how to walk on water
Climate - JA will hold back the tide
Child poverty - free hugs


Not surprising from a political party without vision. They promised transformational and in their three years in power they maintained the neoliberal socioeconomic framework embraced by all the mainstream parties in New Zealand. Now, they’ve dropped the pretence. Let’s keep moving ... how inspiring!

Not a lot are addressing the elephant in the room.

We are watching a global systemic collapse; a slow-motion train-wreck with feed-back loops. The Beirut event is a classic example - missed by all the MSM thus far (they note the problems; financial collapse, virus etc. but not the global reasons). The question is whether our system of Government is capable of leading through the change (It'll be well underway by 2030 and globalisation has been on the wane for a couple of decades now)?

I'd back Labour to be capable of leading through a systemic collapse; I'd only expect National to try and protect it's cronies (a failing strategy, BTW).

The train wreck isn't so slow motion of late.

Powder kegs everywhere.

Apparently the explosive materials in store had been confiscated (I think that's why Lebanon are calling the stocks "illegal"?), but by whom and from whom hasn't been made clear.