Ministerial scandals, soaring National poll results and an opening speech from Helen Clark that read like a statement of defence. Perhaps the main solace that the left can find is that precious few people (leftist, centrist, rightist or apathetic) can cry “I told you so!” The leadership change that saw Don Brash take over from Bill English had most people saying that the National party was going to head sharply right and as a consequence into political oblivion. Brash, on the back of his Orewa speech, has at least been able to say “Not quite yet.”
Brash has been able to mix some of the lessons learnt by his two immediate predecessors to create a successful policy push. Jenny Shipley was seen as someone who the common man (or woman) could not relate with. Bill English had in essence the race relations policy, but everyone was always on the edge of their seats waiting for him to do a policy back flip the day after he had said something controversial. Brash has tailored his message to Joe average and added a blunt decisiveness to come up trumps. Where next though? Brash has outlined that he will make speeches on the economy, welfare, etc. Unfortunately for Brash the corporate tax rate debate may cause a furore at the IRD and Treasury Xmas parties, but it’s no shop stopper for the average man on the street. The mud thrown over the Waitangi celebrations (take that how you will) gave Brash a rich vein to tap into. With the economy doing pretty well how do you engender public support for the idea of giving more money to big business without delivering an economic dossier?
Brash at least presumably has some ideas, the sales pitch is what he needs to work on. Meanwhile opposite him sits a Government who is looking all too reactionary. Labour was able to ride into the Treasury benches on the basis of a return to manifesto-style policies in the form of its pledge card. Voters from north to south could literally tick off each course of action as it was implemented. The initiative was tried again at the 2002 election, but the pledges became more philosophical. If Clark released one now it would probably say (1) We are going to try and do some good. (2) We are going to react to crisis when it arises. (3) We might change our reaction if it sounds like you don’t like what we are doing. Tick all those off and it makes for a Government who needs to find some ideas a little more inspiring than the ‘Building Bill’ and ‘Employment Relations Reform Bill’ if they hope to stop their recent slide.