The Ardern government is in a hopeless death spiral… or is it?
Damien Grant is an Auckland business owner, member of the Taxpayers Union and regular opinion contributor to Stuff, writing from a libertarian perspective.
OPINION: The Prime Minister can reshuffle his front bench, fire a few lame ducks and hand even more responsibility to his few capable ministers. It will not work.
His administration is caught in a deadly spiral from which there is no turning back, and from which there will be no respite.
This government is finished. Their polls are dynamic but, as we have learned time and time again in recent years, polls are misleading and unreliable.
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* Can Labor attack Christopher Luxon and ‘be nice’ at the same time?
The only thing a poll can tell you for sure is the trend; and the trend is clear. The electorate is fed up with this government, or maybe they are just fed up with its leader.
Ardern is trapped by her past success and her past mistakes. She has a feat: Covid.
Everything else has either been a failure or has no lasting electoral weight, and more worryingly for the ninth floor, she seems to be losing control of her own party.
She can sack Poto Williams, but she doesn’t have the mana to fire Nanaia Mahuta, a much bigger campaign trail but with a lot more political punch.
The Prime Minister is unwilling or, more likely, unable to stand up to the Maori caucus, whose demands on issues such as co-governance are proving a marketing boon for the Taxpayers’ Union, whose roadshow rural Three Waters is set to packed houses.
Ardern’s defenders will point to his outstanding performance in the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attack and the response to White Island, and in times of crisis this Prime Minister has no equal. It’s hard to imagine Luxon acting with such pathos or empathy.
Yet none of this matters. Even the Covid response looks tattered in retrospect, with the missteps of not ordering stock on time, border failures and the public relations disaster of the way the Parliamentary Lawn protest was handled.
Within the political right, it is believed that they are now a government-in-waiting. Christopher Luxon is confident. David Seymour sparkles with impatience. Chris Bishop, Nicola Willis, Brooke van Velden and even Todd Muller are waiting to put their mitts on the state shifters.
The mood of the conference room, at least from my anecdotal encounters, is one of expectation, even anticipation, that the irresponsible and callous Ardern Ministry will soon be swept away.
Elections are tricky things. Favorites don’t always win, and you should never underestimate the power of the office, or the ferocity of a back-to-the-wall starter and all-out play.
Few electoral certainties are more famous than Thomas E Dewey, the clean-cut Republican with the Freddie Mercury moustache, called upon to defeat incumbent Harry S Truman in the 1948 presidential election.
Dewey’s loss is notable because it was unexpected, but it’s also relevant because he was the favorite and took the route often favored by the frontrunners – play it safe.
He ran such a bland campaign that a newspaper mocked his four root speeches which could be summed up as follows: “Farming matters. Our rivers are full of fish. You cannot have freedom without freedom. Our future is before us. »
Across Tasman, we saw a similar outcome in 2019, when the unpopular Liberal administration led by Scott Morrison held on to power against predictions of certain defeat.
Morrison had always been behind in the polls, but when the time came to vote for change, many Australians mysteriously decided against it.
Labor leader Bill Shorten ran a risk-averse campaign, avoiding big commitments, which was later deconstructed by his party as lacking political strategy and with a “cluttered” political platform.
Perhaps the most relevant upheaval, when looking at our forthcoming elections, is the 1992 election in the United Kingdom.
John Major was the austere and unimpressive successor to Margaret Thatcher, whose government grappled with falling house prices, 10% interest rates, rising unemployment and dismal polls. Yet his conservatives pulled off a remarkable victory against the run of play.
Voters, it was claimed, simply did not find Opposition Leader Neil Kinnock compelling, and the Tories managed to paint Labor as lacking in fiscal responsibility.
Opinion polls are like by-elections and high school sweethearts, an opportunity to experiment without having to commit seriously. What matters is what voters will do once inside the cardboard enclosure of a voting booth.
National is too confident. They stand on the edge of the dance, waiting for the voter to tire of their current partner rather than seek to intervene. It is significant that the Taxpayers Union, not the National Party, is organizing rallies against Three Waters.
Despite all his failures, Ardern retains enormous respect and, in some quarters, genuine affection. Many voters secretly appreciate that our Prime Minister is celebrated on the world stage.
Chris Luxon is not a celebrity. He will not be invited to meet Stephen Colbert. Anthony Albanese will not hug him. Ardern has a cachet she lacks and, perhaps, voters will pause before letting her go.
And here is the real challenge for National. Economic uncertainty has hit the country like a hoarfrost, and if that uncertainty is accompanied by a sharp downturn, two things will come into play.
First, if this is a global meltdown, Ardern and Grant Robertson will not be held accountable any more than they were for Covid.
Second, who will voters trust more to look after them: the empathetic Ardern and his spendthrift and financially irresponsible Robertson, or the former airline executive?
Luxon did not specify what National would do if elected, aside from some populist politics. He plays it safe.
Because they have not defined themselves, National and its leader are offering the government the chance to do it for them, which is part of why we see Labor carrying out negative attacks on Luxon.
It would take a colossal effort for the National to lose the next election to an unpopular administration that has lost its mandate and credibility. They seem ready to take up this challenge.