In election week, it all depends on what you see when you look around the country that will determine who gets to celebrate on Saturday night

I was walking out of a meeting with two fine people the other day, one a National Party supporter and one a Labour Party supporter. The centre-right man reckons his team has lost it, but he sighed, "the economy's going so well, we should do as little as possible. Just keep it the same".

The woman, who has voted different ways at different elections, declared herself all red this time round. "It's time for change. They've had nine years and done nothing about what matters.

And there you have this election in a nutshell. This isn't a landslide or crisis election, although there is plenty enough to make you want to tear your hair out. Neither is it a time where 'steady as she goes' feels enough, although consumer confidence remains high and inflation low.

As with my two colleagues, it all depends on your priorities. It's not that all National supporters are all heartless, money-obsessed shills or that Labour supporters are all farmer-hating, tax and spend fruitcakes. And it's not that there's a gaping town-country divide, as National would have us think. The divide is, rather, what you choose to see when you step outside your door, regardless of where you live.

When you look around New Zealand at the moment, your eyes and mind can rest of very different things. And what you see as the defining features of modern New Zealand is likely to determine how you vote. 

Some see one of the OECD's most successful economies, low unemployment, more roads and infrastructure on the horizon and even a new commitment to tackling poverty. All of that is true. So say status quo supporters.

Others see people sleeping in cars and on marae, people dying on hospital waiting lists, filthy rivers and a new generation with less and less chance of ever owning a home like their parents' did. You see that, you see a need for change.

You can even look at the same thing and see it entirely differently. One person can look at a prison and see an over-crowded mess with rehabiliation programmes that aren't working well enough; another sees people locked away where they should be - thanks to laws that take bail and domestic violence seriously - yet being well-fed and even trained.

That's why when you watch a leaders' debate or hear politicians repeating their well-honed soundbites, it can sound like they're talking about different countries. In effect, they are. Especially at this stage of the campaign, when so much is about motivating turnout.

The trick is seeing where the two crossover. Where those who are open to seeing either viewpoint, choose which way to look. It's also about how those voters can feel like they're having their cake and eating it too. That is, keep the sound economy but improve the social spending and tackle the environment and poverty. 

For example, National has tried to reassure voters that its hard work of returning New Zealand to surplus means it now has choices and its choices will include addressing some of the social deficits New Zealand faces. Case in point: Lifting 100,000 children out of poverty inside three years.

Labour, by contrast, has costed its policies up the wazoo and made soothing noises about debt tracks and fiscal responsibility. It can choose to spend $8b extra on health, build 100,000 houses in ten years and get serious about the environment but still be responsible economic stewards. Case in point: No increase to income tax.

(The importance of this narrative makes the decision to try to force a Capital Gains Tax into its first term all the more nutty and such a gift to National. It was like National saying it was going to cut taxes but shrug its shoulders about poverty).

So far, so much where this campaign has been fought. A battle of priorities, exactly as an election campaign should be. And that battle is too close to call, although both major parties have had a decent crack at shooting themselves in the foot.

But as the campaign settles into its last lap, there's another variable that could be the decisive one; at very least it's moving the tide and resisting it would be a striking political achievement. It's timing.

National is weighed down by incumbency. What is a gift at the end of your first term becomes a dead weight by the end of your third. Your track record becomes a burden.

It's at the heart of the nine-year rule, the sense that you've had your turn and it's time to hold you to account for all the things you haven't done.

On the other side, Labour has the lightness of the new, especially with a recently appointed and popular leader. And, when middle class women voters are such crucial swing voters, a leader who looks and sounds like them helps. As I've said elsewhere, the question is not if Jacinda Ardern becomes Prime Minister, it's when: 2017 or 2020? Have enough people decided she's ready?

More importantly, have enough people decided to trust her with all the good things they see (the surplus, low unemployment et al), in the hope that she can do something fix all those bad things? That's been the guts of Labour's battle, and while it's been shakey, they've made significant progress.

National hasn't been able to compete on 'hope and change', so it's doubled-down on stability and the risk of the unknown. Labour's tax uncertainty was a gift and gave roots to its scare-mongering. It started to get a grip, which was why Labour's promise to kick that can down the road to 2020 was so vital.

So two main questions remain: Has that tactic done enough to allow people to again embrace Jacindamania, which can be defined as their desire to have the troubles they see fixed and their belief that she can give it a good crack.

And what about turnout? Will the polls match the results or might some stay home?

It's tough for National; Labour, if it gets to lead, would to reap the rewards of its fiscal discipline. Its opponents get to spend its yields. Such is politics. The same thing happened just nine years ago, when Bill English inherited Michael Cullen's robust economy. And arguably, Helen Clark and Cullen inherited some tough choices made by Jim Bolger and then Jenny Shipley.

So the wheel turns. Is it time for another rotation? It depends on which New Zealand those swing voters choose to see, and which party has done enough to convince them they are giving them something of both worlds.

 

Comments (6)

by Raymond A Francis on September 20, 2017
Raymond A Francis

It looks as if it is going to be close with Labour by just a nose

Labour have been using or rather trying to use the "nine long years" meme that tipped them out last  time.

Conventally forgetting the three major earthquakes and the GFC, I doubt if anyone else has though, well apart from those school kids Miss Ardern seems to be focusing on

by Alan Johnstone on September 20, 2017
Alan Johnstone

There are two very different countries just in Auckland and they don't interact or even overlap any more.

You can drive from the French Market in Parnell to Otara Markets in 40 minutes. I go to both fairly often, but if you only experience one, then you don't understand (or really believe) how other people live.

I imagine the urban vs rural divide is just as stark, although I rarely visit the proviences so don't really understand their issues or concerns. 

by william blake on September 20, 2017
william blake

I think you are right on those two postcard pictures of New Zealand Tim, they both require a slight of hand to justify though. The left want it all; healthy kids through to a healthy economy, is that realistic? The right understand the hard truth of this equation and solve it with the simple idea that some people have fewer human rights than others therefore fewer people have the right to prosperity. 

Im voting for the ideal knowing that it will be compromised rather than this brutal reality which we know will only get worse.

 

 

by Kat on September 20, 2017
Kat

"This isn't a landslide or crisis election,............"

"It's tough for National; Labour, if it gets to lead, would to reap the rewards of its fiscal discipline."

Explain that to the DHB's where babies and people die from not having operations caused directly from lack of govt funding. Not to mention highest suicide rate in the OECD.  Explain that to the families of the mentally ill, the homeless, the nurses, police and teachers who can't afford to buy a house, explain that to orchard workers who get paid a pittance. Explain, explain, explain..........

This election is the tipping point.

by Moz on September 20, 2017
Moz

he left want it all; healthy kids through to a healthy economy, is that realistic? The right understand the hard truth

That's exactly as I see it too. The right understand the hard truth, we can't have ever increasing wealth at the top end without poverty, homelessness and death at the other end. And they're comfortable with that. They live in an economy, not a society. To use a UK slogan, "the right stand for the few against the many".

by Katharine Moody on September 20, 2017
Katharine Moody

This election is the tipping point.

Yes, I feel a bit that way too. 

And of course if Labour don't form the next government, then naturally my first thought will be it's because Natinal ran a campaign of lies and untruths. And that's not a healthy place to be.

http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/opinion/2017/09/patrick-gower-national-guilty-of-biggest-campaign-lie.html


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