Hitting the wall -- housing debates & political narratives

On The Vote Metiria Turei of the Greens and National's Sam Lotu-Iiga both slipped up, and in doing so showed where their parties are potentially weak in Election 2014.

The Labour leadership contest has shown the important role narrative plays in politics - Shane Jones the roguish bloke who knows what it's like for real Kiwis... David Cunliffe the economic visionary and new-left champion of the worker who can still reassure the centre... Grant Roberton the uniter, the good bloke and the new generation of leader who will move us beyond the baby-boomers. Which one most resonates with you is likely to have a large impact on how you vote.

But just as powerful is the anti-narrative - the story your opponents try to stick on you - and on last night's The Vote we saw two examples that give us an insight on how next year's election battle could unfold.

Television can brutally expose you in just a moment; or it can launch you just as quickly. Both Greens Co-Leader Metiria Turei and National MP Sam Lotu-Iiga were exposed on last night's programme -- not in a moment, but several times.

Turei got caught out by a simple questions; "Do you want house prices to drop?" It's one thing to fret about housing affordability, to say how prices are out of control even and fear a bubble. But to tell the more than one million mortgage holders in New Zealand -- including many of the deeply indebted Auckland liberals who vote Green -- that they should be willing to take a hit on their biggest asset, well, the hashtag #politicalsuicide was used on Twitter and wasn't out of order.

Thing is, Turei was asked twice by Duncan Garner and stuck to her guns. Twenty minutes later into the programme, Linda Clark pressed her on the comment and rather than recant, Turei went further, saying:

"...that means that those holding onto the wealth now will have to be prepared to let some of it go."

While Turei went on Fristline to admit that she had mispoken, the fact is it revealed something. Not that the Greens have a secret agenda or really do want to collpase the housing market, but that Turei in her concern for affordability, hadn't understood the implications of the issue. She didn't see the whole picture -- at least not on that night, and probably more than that. It's a worringly shallow take on the housing portfolio show holds.

Sam Lotu-Iiga came to the debate prepared, but struggled in the heat of a theatre audience and all those TV cameras. It's a brutal environment and frankly, a backbencher with limited TV experience should not be asked to go on primetime television to represent the government on one of the year's hottest topics. But it's the natural outcome of National's policy that ministers do not debate on TV.

Guyon Espiner pointed out that first-home buyers would need a deposit of $130,000 to buy an average-priced house in Auckland and asked whether it put the Kiwi dream out of reach for most. Lotu-Iiga replied "no, it’s not out of reach". Boom. I mean, who can save that sort of money in our low wage economy?

To make matters worse, Espiner later asked him just what National had done to help the housing shortage we now face, especially in Auckland. Lotu-Iiga froze and struggled to find any kind of answer at all. This is how it went:

Espiner: Sam Lotu-Iiga, National and the coalition have been in Government since 2008, how on earth have you let the supply of houses get so out of control? Why are we so far behind? You’ve done nothing haven’t you?

Lotu-Iiga: Well we’ve done something. We passed the law last week that these guys opposed because we need 39-thousand homes in this city.

Espiner: Why did you wait five years? What have you done in the last five years?

Lotu-Iiga: Let’s talk about the facts. In terms of house prices, between 1999 and 2008, they went up by 100 percent.

Espiner: We’re talking about your government

Lotu-Iiga: And our government has put in place legislation around…last week, last week,

Espiner: In the last five years, what have you done? What have you done?...Yeah there’s been a global recession!

Lotu-Iiga: We’ve put in place some legislation

Espiner: Last week. What have you done in the last five years?

Lotu-Iiga: We’ve got an inquiry into building materials.

Twyford: Five long years.

Espiner: Doesn’t sound very good does it?

Cue the hashtag #fivelongyears.

Both slip ups play into the narrative their opponents are trying to craft around them ahead of next year's election. John Key is being as subtle as a brick to the head in his efforts to paint the Greens as economic nutters who will drag Labour to the left and ruin the economy. The go-to place to criticse the left is always 'voodoo economics'. That will clearly be at the heart of National's re-election strategy and these sorts of comments are exactly the sort of ammunition he's after.

Lotu-Iiga's gaffes suggest a government that is out of touch and has run out of ideas. National's achilles heel typically revolves around claims of elitism and a 'rich pricks' mentality. And government seeking a third term will be accused of being tired and at the end of its creative road. The Opposition parties will ask often exactly what's been achieved in #fivelong years.

And housing is a weak point for the government. It's missed the boat on supply especially, given that the market has simply not built enough houses. It established the Productivity Commission, which slowed things down, then to exacerbate the problem didn't respond to its recommendations for months. Its Housing Accord with Auckland came five years in -- too little, too late. And it's hurting first home buyers and their parents who are being asked to act as bankers. This is middle class angst, but more than that the Kiwi dream of home ownership has been wounded. That touches everybody.

So housing will be a major battlefield next year. But the weapons will be those narratives. The question is which one will you and other voters buy into this time.