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Mike Butler

Politics, Parties, Voters

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Sixteen months after winning the 2008 election, Prime Minister John Key and the National Party have increased in popularity, according to the latest opinion polls.

The polls were published before Housing and Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley’s resignation after signing off an incorrect spending declaration, the second minister to go from the Key Cabinet.

Key registered 58 per cent backing as preferred Prime Minister, according to the latest Herald-DigiPoll survey. This was the highest preferred Prime Minister rating since August 2005, when Helen Clark had 59 per cent support.

National’s current support of 54 percent is up from the 45.5 percent vote achieved in the 2008 election, according to the ONE News Colmar Brunton opinion poll published last Sunday.

Key seems to be on a permanent publicity parade, following the pattern of Clark, although he does it more naturally, apparently more at ease than his often-awkward predecessor. For instance, last weekend he was seen posing in Art Deco garb with fellow MPs in Napier, and cycling around a new bike track at St Mary’s School, Hastings.

He is adept at email marketing, has a Facebook page boasting 18,495 fans, and regularly tweets on Twitter.

His popularity has increased despite rejecting a referendum result that showed nearly 87.4 percent of voters do not want a light smack to be a criminal offence. Key’s action displays a “we know best” mentality that was the hallmark of the previous administration.

Another unpopular move by Key would be the forests-for-votes deal that he entered into with the Maori Party to get the Climate Change Response (Moderated Emissions Trading) Amendment Bill passed into law. This has not apparently tarnished his image, although it follows an atrocious political process that subverts representative democracy.

This law was passed before the “climategate” leak of emails from the University of East Anglia showed that the prestigious agencies involved in leading climate change science were breaking official information laws, arbitrarily adjusting raw data, hiding the reasons for those adjustments, and contriving to lose the original unadjusted data so that it could not be independently checked.

The National Party campaigned on cutting tax, yet 16 months down the track, the Key administration has found that big government is a hungry beast and is looking at ways to increase tax. A rise in GST to 15 percent is under consideration, showing a U-turn on an election promise not to touch GST. Moreover, property investors have been targeted as a source of extra tax.

National also campaigned on curbing government spending, but the Key government increased core government spending to $62.3-billion, up from the 2008 budgeted amount of $61.9-billion, despite a highly publicized line-by-line review of departmental expenditure.

The Key government set up the 2025 Taskforce to investigate how to close the income gap with Australia, but Key rejected the taskforce’s recommendations as too radical, thus indicating he is likely to continue a somewhat ad hoc approach.

The National-led government often reminds us that we are facing the most serious financial situation in many years. The question remains whether anyone in that government will be clever enough to draw on the wisdom of coalition colleague Sir Roger Douglas, who successfully dealt with economic challenges a generation ago.

The architect of Rogernomics has a proposal for a capital tax of 0.08 percent that he says would reduce expenditure by $15-billion, reduce the deficit by $7-billion, reduce personal tax to 16.66 percent, and get rid of company tax. Property investors could be better off under such a tax rather than lose the capability of claiming depreciation.

Looking to the Opposition, Phil Goff, who has the thankless task of leading the remnants of a Labour team dumped from office after nine years in power, has the support of only eight percent as preferred Prime Minister, according to the ONE News poll. Labour’s support sits at 34 percent, down from the 33.8 percent support gained in the 2008 election.

Goff’s ”The Many Not the Few” speech about capping public service chief executives’ salaries had less impact than his speech accusing the Government of making shabby deals with the Maori Party, which was criticised as playing the race card.

Ministerial financial indiscretions, apparent policy U-turns, and ill-considered Government reactions could all provide suitable ground for an effective opposition to cultivate, but the Labour Party has so far not succeeded in making much headway.

The Greens dipped under the 5 percent threshold in the latest polls, down from 6.4 percent in November 2008, meaning that without an electorate seat, if there were an election now they would not be in parliament. Minus veteran environmentalist Jeanette Fitzsimons and activist Sue Bradford, and with a home insulation scheme being rolled out, the Greens have difficulty making an impact, even though co-leader Russel Norman has had abundant air time to comment on just about anything.

Winston Peters emerges from the political wilderness periodically to comment, as he did after Maori Party MP Hone Harawira’s racially offensive outburst.

ACT is hovering around 2 percent, down from 3.7 percent in 2008, and as a tiny party in coalition with, and having similar interests with the National Party, struggles to differentiate itself.

ACT leader Rodney Hide appears consumed with his role as Minister of Local Government, especially with putting together the Auckland super city. Heather Roy has disappeared into delivering speeches on consumer affairs, defence, or education. David Garrett has championed the Three-Strikes bill against repeat violent offenders. John Boscawen has campaigned against the Electoral Finance Act, and anti-smacking referendum.

ACT is the only party in parliament to oppose emissions trading. Hide, who studied environmental science, pointed out that on the basis of questionable science, the Key government is hitting Fonterra with a $100-million-a-year bill, which will cost the average dairy farm $10,000 a year extra, and which will hike fuel and power costs to every business and householder in the country.

The presence of five ACT MPs in parliament comes with Hide winning Epsom and comes courtesy of the curious MMP system. Hide was seriously embarrassed into paying back expenses after publication of details of an overseas trip he took with his girlfriend on the public purse.

The Maori Party has stayed on its message of Maori control of all things Maori and is hovering around 2 percent support. Co-leaders Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia got Key to fly the Tino Rangatiratanga flag on Waitangi Day, has brought the Whanau Ora one-stop welfare shop for Maori families for Cabinet approval, and is pressing ahead on it’s fl

agship repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act policy despite the antics of colleague Hone Harawira, who single-handedly generated 752 complaints to the race relations conciliator.

The presence of five Maori Party MPs in parliament depends on the anachronistic parallel Maori electorate system that distorts the proportionality of parliament, and means the party’s influence goes way beyond the 2 percent support it has.

Peter Dunne of United Future and Jim Anderton of the Progressive Party both retained their electorate seats so remain in parliament. They are rarely seen on television and the popularity of both remains at less than one percent.

2008 election result
Kiwis’ confidence in economy slides, One News, February 21, 2010.  http:// www.vnz.co.nz/politics-news/kiwis-confidence-in-economy-slides-3375394
Poll records growing support for Key, NZ Herald, February 13, 2010.