Despite odds, National maintains cautious confidence

Venkat Raman

Political gloves came off on June 23 when the General Election 2017 transited to the ‘Regulated Period,’ and almost at the same time both Leaders of National and Labour had to do damage control – the former having to face the accusation of ‘lying’ in the Todd Barclay affair and the latter having to cope with the misdoings of his former Chief of Staff over the ‘Campaign for Change,’ which allegedly did things that ran counter to Labour’s immigration policy.

These are discussed in our Leader under Viewlink.

The current scenario

The current political scene would confound any seasoned observer; against accusations of arrogance, complacency and indifference, the National Party appears to be doing well at Opinion Polls, if such polls are to be believed.

Labour appears to suffer sliding popularity although its leaders and candidates remain confident; the Greens experience mixed bags of popularity and disregard. The only Party that seems to register consistently good performance is New Zealand First, which, even at its best, is not likely to get more than 15 seats.

Political fortunes can change in seconds but the current state of the polity may lead to a hung Parliament on September 23, 2017. New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters may hold the trump card as he did at the beginning of the second term (2005) of the Helen Clark government.

National Party Conference

But those following the 81st Annual Conference of the National Party held in Wellington on June 23-24, 2017 would have been somewhat surprised at the jubilant mood of almost everyone attending it, most important of all being Mr English.

He was at his career best, delivering an address that almost sounded like the Acceptance Speech after the election.

But anxiety and nervousness in some quarters were palpable.

There is no indication yet of the anti-incumbency factor, but National Party leadership would certainly not take the General Election for granted. However, Mr English has put his foot forward to bat into the future.

Speaking about ‘New Zealand Beyond 2020,’ he set the scene for ‘National’s New Zealand.’

Such a country, he said, would be open to trade and investment, happy to have Kiwis stay home and embrace growth because it delivers more jobs, higher wages and greater opportunities for New Zealanders.

“We will work for a New Zealand where innovation and hard work is recognised and rewarded, a New Zealand that looks after the most vulnerable, and helps them change their lives,” he said.

And then, he delivered his political punch.

“Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First, on the other hand, would shut down growth because they are not up for tackling the challenges success brings. Well, National is up for it, and New Zealanders are too,” he said.

The Immigration muddle

Immigration is an issue that would ruffle a few feathers, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has already announced formulae for Skilled Migrants with a higher income threshold but no one seems to notice or care to notice the similarity of ideas among the three parties- National, Labour and New Zealand First.

National continues to enjoy a friendly mainstream media, which in some ways could be detrimental to its own preservation.

Mr English and many of his cabinet colleagues know that.

Queering the pitch

Some insiders say that National does not have the luxury of a popularity wave that swept the Party to power in November 2008. Nine years in government always bring with them weariness, both for the incumbent Party and for the public. Ideas often run out of steam and long-standing MPs announce their intention to quit.

Mr English was the choice of Mr Key as his successor, but even so, there were factions within the Party, the first seen since November 2006, when Mr Key became the Leader.

Mr English has announced that he and his team would fight hard to win every party vote to form a strong and stable government. However, as he conceded, the MMP system would force him to work with others through ‘Confidence and Supply Agreements’ that have worked in the past.

His preference is to continue working with current partners –  ACT, United Future and the Maori Party and has ruled out any other combination.

“New Zealand First is an unlikely partner, however I am prepared to have discussions with them post-election depending on the makeup of Parliament,” Mr English said.

Political gamble

When he was Finance Minister, Mr English was not obliged to make promises before a General Election; but as Prime Minister, he is obliged to do so.

Election promises may be reckless and Mr English indulged in some of it.

“We will deliver an ambitious programme to invest $32.5 billion in schools, roads, hospitals and broadband – the next stage of which is allocating the $1 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund to help build tens of thousands of new homes faster. We will also further lift incomes and cut taxes to help hard-working New Zealanders get ahead and reduce the pressure on families most in need,” he said.

The economy is at the heart of the National Party’s election campaign.

National Party supporters expect the Government to remain in office for a fourth term, although the Election will be tightly contested.

A fourth term for the centre-right National Party would be a near-unprecedented feat; only two governments have won four consecutive elections since the Second World War.


Photo Caption:

Bill English with Rahul (right) and Jaya Sirigiri at the 81st Conference of National Party in Wellington on June 23

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