Peter Dunne says there's still time for what has been a pretty boring and pedestrian campaign to date to show some life, but it would not be wise to count on that

Peter Dunne says there's still time for what has been a pretty boring and pedestrian campaign to date to show some life, but it would not be wise to count on that

By Peter Dunne*

We are only a few days into the election campaign second time around, but already some things have become clear about the campaigns likely to be waged by the various parties.

For Labour, the plan is straightforward and basic. As the lead party of the incumbent government, its campaign is based very much around business as usual and making sure nothing goes wrong over the next five weeks until election day. Covid-19 will continue to be an influence, both in terms of the government’s day to day management of the lingering and recurring outbreaks, and also the reminder of how well things went during the full-scale lockdowns a little earlier in the year. Not unreasonably, Labour will seek to bask in the reflected glory of that and the Prime Minister’s popularity for as long as possible.

That will be a gentle and soft image, almost impossible for the National Party to try to campaign against without looking snarly or churlish. Such policy announcements as Labour makes between now and the election will attempt to replicate that wholesome flavour. So, this week we have seen a promise to extend loans to small businesses affected by Covid-19 for a further three years (two of which will be interest-free); a new public holiday to mark Matariki, and an increase in the top tax rate for those earning over $180,000.

Indeed, the tax rate increase underpins Labour’s determination to appear as nice and innocuous as possible. Why else announce a tax policy which in their own words will not affect 98% of taxpayers, and will raise only $550 million a year when the estimated cost of the Covid-19-induced recession is likely to be in the range of $140 billion over coming decades? The tax hike will hardly have any impact on Covid-19 recession recovery. Instead, it is but the merest of drops in the tax bucket more designed to virtue signal Labour’s concern about the gap between the rich and the poor, without otherwise upsetting the apple cart too much.

And that looks being Labour’s policy pattern for the rest of the campaign. At a time when people are still scared about Covid-19 and are seeking comfort and reassurance, such a softly-softly approach may well be all it will take to secure Labour the outright majority no party has achieved since the advent of MMP.

National, on the other hand, seems to have opted for a more policy-based campaign. Where they see Labour as deliberately fluffy and vague, National sees itself providing the contrast by promoting real policies to solve real problems.  To that end, there have been big policy announcements this week about a renewed methamphetamine treatment and rehabilitation strategy; a major roading reconstruction programme and the upgrading of Hawkes Bay Hospital. All are substantial, but each has the air about it of being the type of announcement a government already in office might make, rather than a party seeking to win office.

In contrast to Labour, National is clearly aiming to present itself as the party that understands the process of government, and how to meet critical needs. Hence its emphasis so far on solid, achievable projects and programmes over what it characterises as Labour’s more superficial approach. However, it has all the early signs of simply being the wrong campaign for the country’s current situation. While the needs National is identifying are undoubtedly important and deserving of attention, they miss the boat in terms of where the public is right now. With people still seeming frightened by the Covid-19 experience, Labour’s metaphorical offer of a warm cuddle and some soothing words looks more appealing and credible, given the Prime Minister’s approach, than National’s more business-like, no-nonsense back-to-normal approach.

The Greens’ campaign has been seriously derailed by the Taranaki Green School funding row. Just like 2017 when revelations about then co-leader Metiria Turei’s less than fulsome benefit declarations very nearly tipped the party out of Parliament altogether, the Greens have again been left reeling, this time  as a consequence of current co-leader James Shaw’s decision to fund a private Green School in Taranaki to the tune of $11 million, contrary to both the party’s and it now the appears the government’s policies on support for private schools.

Not only do the Greens now look once again to be struggling to keep their heads above water, they have been left completely on their own by their major partner in government. Aside from one or two perfunctory niceties uttered by the Prime Minister, Labour has offered little support for the beleaguered Greens as Labour clearly realises the prospect of its being able to govern on its own, without the need for the Greens is growing ever stronger. As in 2017, this campaign for the Greens has now become one of just survival, rather than an occasion to try to increase their Parliamentary strength.

Meanwhile, New Zealand First’s early 1980s style provincial road trip continues. Whistle stop visits and specific local promises designed to address local concerns seem the order of the day, but the overall appearance is that everyone from the politicians, to the accompanying media and the small groups turning out to meet the visitors as they rush through is just going through the motions. There seems none of the enthusiasm and energy that has characterised previous New Zealand First campaigns. Rather, there looks to be a pervasive sense of grim foreboding and pulling up the drawbridges as Winston Peters’ train-wreck interview with Q&A’s Jack Tame so amply demonstrated.

That leaves ACT, which at this stage looks like being the only small party assured of a return to Parliament. While ACT’s resurgence is a justified tribute to the determination and performance of David Seymour, the question remains to what end. With National unlikely to get the numbers this time to form a government, ACT will be a small Opposition group, with many of its likely half dozen or so new MPs ever mindful that they are only there because of the temporarily-parked votes of currently disgruntled and disillusioned National voters, likely to return home once National gets its act together again.

Overall, at this early stage, the Prime Minister and ACT’s David Seymour have been the leading performers. Whereas the Prime Minister has succeeded to date by cleverly staying largely above the fray, while sounding unfailingly positive, leaving all the tough questions to her Ministers to answer, Seymour, not Judith Collins, has emerged as her likely foil, far more willing to take her on directly on matters of policy she might otherwise prefer to avoid.

That having been said, there are just on five weeks of campaigning to go. While some things will not change, with the die looking already solidly cast, there remains the capacity for the coming television debates to throw up surprises, or Covid-19 to do more of its dirty work, or other surprises, all of which could influence the final result. So, what has been a pretty boring and pedestrian campaign to date could yet show some life. However, it would not be wise to count on that.


*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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33 Comments

Yes, Labour policy announcements limp wristed and a yawn.
National mix of trying not to upset folk by appearing nasty (difficult for top 2) and spending that they don't really like as they hate gov spending, plus trying to argue that debt needs to be repaid when gov DO NOT repay debt, they just roll it over and pay FA interest due to CB manipulation.
Vision: zero

There is a great deal of government debt being repaid at the moment as that is what QE does. The government is the issuer of the NZ dollar, borrowing is optional and not something that it even needs to do, it doesn't fund its spending. Politicians think that they need to tax us to repay debt but that only deletes currency it doesn't actually pay back anything. Economist Bill Mitchell explains here why governments borrow.
Part one. http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=45106
Part two. http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=45108

I just want one journalist to ask what happened to all the stuff Labour promised in 2017.

They where political promises, not real promises.

Most of what they promised was implemented.

Strange, I don't remember them building 100,000 affordable houses, reducing child poverty, reducing net migration, acting on the findings of the Tax Working Group, and building light rail to Auckland Airport.

Those are a minority of the things they campaigned on.

How have they gotten on with the high speed passenger rail between Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton?

Research it yourself, I'm not an oracle here to give answers.

It was a bit of a loaded question mate, they haven't done diddly. You are the one who claimed they've accomplished most of their promises - care to elaborate on that? Bit of a head scratcher for me.

care to elaborate on that

No, do your own research. You will discover that my claim is correct and hopefully stop scratching your head.

I think I'll just vote for someone else instead. Cheers mate.

They've documented all of their actions to-date as Government under each subject heading and the subtitle: Labour's Achievements to Date - listing both post-COVID and pre-COVID policy actions.

If you take the time, you'll see a lot has been done. Their legislative programme was exemplary.

See here;

https://www.labour.org.nz/policy

Thanks Kate, I want aware of that link, I'll simply point people that way in future.

They may be a minority Lanthanide but they're pretty big ticket items, even the "fees free" policy has been tossed. If you're gonna be a cheerleader then best you put some substance into your routine rather than just waving the pompoms and then bailing when the questions get asked. You're usually pretty fast with the info, so how come now you're "not an oracle"?

even the "fees free" policy has been tossed.

Er, no, it has been implemented for this first term exactly as it was promised to be.

If you're gonna be a cheerleader

I'm not being a cheerleader, I'm providing factual information to challenge incorrect information. The majority of their promises they have implemented.

You're usually pretty fast with the info, so how come now you're "not an oracle"?

I correct mis- or dis-information with the knowledge I have on the top of my head or information I can be bothered to research myself. I'm not under any obligation to answer anyone's questions about anything.

Well you're usually pretty fast to defend the status quo, funny how you backed off answering some direct comments. If you want to debate semantics that's on you I guess, but your credibility is diminished

Well you're usually pretty fast to defend the status quo

You mistake correcting misinformation for 'defense' of something.

funny how you backed off answering some direct comments.

Because the comments are simply tedious hyperbole that are obviously false but require a lot of time to refute in detail, which I'm not going to bother with. If people want to inform themselves they can, it's not my job to do it. If they want to stick their hands over their ears and scream "Labour didn't implement any of their policies!" then I'm not going to stop them, and I doubt being confronted by the facts is going to change their opinion because they clearly didn't base it on reality to begin with, just what they want to believe is true.

If you want to debate semantics that's on you I guess

I'm not debating anything, I'm telling you what I do. If you've mistaken my actions for something else, that's on you.

See post above, all the answers on actions and achievements to date are well documented here;

https://www.labour.org.nz/policy

They are the centrepieces

Yip, they sure were. Doesn't change the facts though, that they implemented the majority of their promises, which is the correction for people saying "they broke all their promises" as many around these parts like to claim.

Minority? Kiwibuild was their flagship policy.

The others mentioned were also heavily promoted.

The only thing they implemented was fees free, and that is an abject disaster. (Worked in Education at the time)

They implemented first start, they raised the minimum wage, they implemented the winter energy payments, they increased benefit payments. That's 4 things right there that they promised to do, and then did.

So your claim "the only thing they implemented was fees free" is clearly false. Whether fees free was a 'disaster' or not is irrelevant as to whether they implemented it as promised, and they did.

Minority? Kiwibuild was their flagship policy.

Yes, it was their flagship policy. It was also just one policy out of many. "Minority" means less than half.

Dunne is starting to show his bias.

Delete 'starting'.

Increasingly, I and many other find that the current election process and political system are so out of date.

Election becomes a mere symbolic process of choosing a government but have absolutely no guarantee of good governance.

As time passes, the west gradually losses:
1. tech advancement, i.e., China catches up and surpass
2. ability and low cost of absorbing foreign wealth, i.e., colonisation, invasion, financial weapons

Then, a new political system should emerge.

So the alternative of no choice and bad government is better? Let me know how well the CCP is being run when Xi is senile and losing his mind in 10 years.

No major party is really campaigning, they seem quietly resigned to their fate. Judith Collins seems more interested in cementing her position than appealing to swing voters while the Prime Minister is trying to maintain an image of being triumphant over Coronavirus as the Auckland situation drags on and on towards the election.

"National is clearly aiming to present itself as the party that understands the process of government, and how to meet critical needs." Except I think they are falling short of that. If they think a roading project, hospital, and a crime strategy are substance in a world wondering what the new 'normal' will be post COVID is, then they are sadly too entrenched in the past as opposed to being visionary. Labour, equally are not really showing much vision either, but at least they seem to be trying to preserve jobs and incomes for workers, even if the mechanisms of what they are doing are questionable to some.

National cannot be taken seriously about its policy prescription until they can show a fully costed budget. As John Key once said in a leaders debate- "Show me the money".

I have read the various policies of all parties and can only see myself voting for TOP. I don't buy into the stupid narrative of "wasted votes"and believe, in its essence, to be a very undemocratic stance. Vote for the policies that align with your beliefs and ignore the hivemind and their two-party system.

Actually, there is no policy positions to fight over. The only focus now is to get the country and its inhabitants safely through Covid during the next year or so, till a vaccine or other cure is found and administered.
All other usual election promises, moves are not going to cut it this time.
Conservatism vs Liberalism, Capitalism vs Mixed Economy, Public vs Private, Infrastructure vs Consumption are the usual planks. We all know the stand of the parties on these already.
It is a Personality Election this time. Let us admit and vote for whom we like, not what we like.

Labour “as nice and innocuous as possible”.
Yes; so give everyone an extra day’s holiday and tax the very rich.
Most will be able to readily comprehend that and be really pleased.
Don’t confuse and upset them with policies about the much needed economic reset.

They were a minority of announcements, yes but they were the centrepiece promises