The election campaign so far: Trevor one, Steven nil

With the Rugby World Cup brouhaha you'd be forgiven for forgetting there is an election soon. Mike Williams compares the performance of campaign managers Trevor Mallard and Steven Joyce

With all the attention on this rugby tournament, it's easy to forget that the 2011 general election is just around the corner. The countdown's begun, with the first hoardings going up in Auckland over the weekend.

As far as nearly all of our political journalists are concerned, elections are the battles between leaders. But more interesting, for political junkies like your correspondent, are battles between campaigns and campaign managers.

Steven Joyce is running the campaign for National and Trevor Mallard fills the role for the Labour Party. Joyce is clearly the Prime Minister’s choice. The two men are close and Joyce ran Don Brash’s campaign in 2005 after completing a review of National’s disastrous result in the 2002 general election when the party slumped to a historic low of twenty per cent of the vote.

National’s campaign manager in 2002 was the then party president, Michelle Boag, and party insiders still mutter into their beards that Michelle was running a “two election strategy” by hanging Leader Bill English out to dry so that her urban Nat selections, Brash and/or Key could win in 2005.

Joyce was a formidable opponent in 2005 and generated a much improved on-the-ground organisation, but he missed the explosive potential of his leader’s association with the mad Exclusive Brethren cabal, and was blindsided at the last moment by a Labour tactic he could neither predict nor counter.

He won’t make the first mistake again, and he’ll be hoping that National will be so far ahead that he won’t again fall victim to the second phenomenon. As the estimable Vernon Small observed in the Dominion Post some weeks ago, one of the difficulties Labour faces is that, for most people, there seems to be little to dislike about the Key National administration.

However, if you’re looking for a good reason to turf out the National Government in November, go no further than the September 17th edition of The Economist. On page nineteen you’ll find a league table of kids’ educational achievement and there at number seven sits New Zealand.

We’re after a few bossy Asian countries, Korea, Canada and Finland but ahead of Japan, Australia, USA, Sweden, Germany, France and Britain.

This makes the National Party’s insistence on ramming so-called national standards down the throats of our superb primary service silly and unnecessary. We’re near the top of class anyhow.

But read the article accompanying the table and you’ll discover that not only is this policy superfluous, it’s also likely to do damage. According to The Economist, four themes for success emerge from the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study. 

Decentralisation (handing power back to the schools) is the top of the list which includes a focus on underachieving kids, a choice of different schools, and high standards for teachers. National standards are the antithesis of decentralisation.

The primary teachers are dead right to resist. Schools must have the freedom to devise a path to accepted goals that suit the communities they serve. This is what works.

What the PISA research tells us is that whatever we’re doing in our primary schools, we’re getting it right. It’s a pity that this ideologically driven stupidity by National isn’t more of an issue in the election.

Message to National, if it works, don’t fix it.

Back to the campaign count-downs, and in the marginal seat of Te Atatu, its one nil to Trevor Mallard over Steven Joyce. Labour candidates, Phil Twyford and Kelvin Davies got their hoardings up at the first opportunity.
We’re still waiting for National’s Tau Henare to get motivated.

Give him a call, Steven. Not a good look.