Magazine article New Zealand Management

Labour Pains to End?

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Labour Pains to End?

Article excerpt

If you are National and not impatient, things have been going nicely for your party as you go to the 70th anniversary conference this month. Your party is on track to government in 2008.

Of course, nothing in politics is automatic. Labour has plenty of fight left in it and is resourceful. So don't yet rule out a fourth term for Helen Clark. But the signs have been accumulating this year that this is a farewell term.

Labour over-promised its way back to power last year with two large bribes, on student loans and a Working for Families extension. Together they have severely constrained its fiscal room to manoeuvre this term and next election year.

That wouldn't be so difficult if the second term's bonus surpluses on a booming domestic economy re-materialised. But this term households have to get their balance sheets back in order after bingeing on the house price bubble.

Even if the economy does as well as the Treasury's Budget forecast, it will be on the export side--great for some but not generally for households until the trickle trickles down.

Even on less grand forecasts than the Treasury's that should be enough to start lifting spirits in election year. But for now all polls that measure aspects of the public's mood show it unmistakably cycling down since it spiked conveniently for Labour just before last election.

The longer the mood stays down in this cycle the more attention--such attention as there is outside of election campaigns--will transfer to the National Party, provided it looks and sounds moderate and competent.

The Government would be helped if it were projecting a picture of competence. But each time it has looked to be getting on top of its problems this year someone in its ranks has been caught in media headlights or fallen over: David Benson-Pope, Parker and Cunliffe--the last two the new white hopes of the Cabinet--and then in June Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen himself saying journalists were driven by venality in their reporting of the Budget.

It has been getting harder all year to avoid the conclusion that the Government is now in decay similar to the decay which set in in National's early 1980s' and late 1990s' third terms. …

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