The longer that I’ve lived away from New Zealand the less that I’ve cared about following the news and blog coverage of the day to day political dramas. However, with the 2017 New Zealand General Election less than two months away I would have expected the competition between the two main parties to have become much closer than it is.
A little over six months ago John Key stepped down as Prime Minister and Bill English, who previously lead the National Party to their biggest defeat became Prime Minister. Since then there has been a few scandals within the National Party, namely, the Todd Barclay secret recordings affair. However, despite these upheavals within the incumbent party there has been very little change in their poll numbers with a current average of around 46% primary support.
In contrast, earlier today, Andrew Little’s leadership of the Labour party came to an end as their average poll numbers dropped to 25% and lower. If the new leader Jacinda Ardern can attract voters back to the party their numbers may improve slightly, but I cannot see Labour doubling their primary vote or taking a huge amount of support away from the National Party.
The reality of the New Zealand political landscape is that it is really boring. Although the National Party has been in power for nine years over three terms they have done extremely well in not giving many concessions to their more conservative and extreme right supporters and coalition partners. As a government they have been well disciplined and as a whole the country has grown economically.
While this stability is a blessing that other countries, including Australia, can only dream about (in the same time Australia has had four Prime Ministers and many more leadership spills) it also means that the opposition party has had very few big issues to create as a point of difference from the National Party. Furthermore, when the Labour Party does try and propose something different they often go too far. For example, they currently have a policy which proposes cutting immigration to New Zealand by up to 30,000 people.
Policies which harm the economic growth or unsettle a population which is entirely built on migration are unlikely to win many new supporters. Rednecks and other anti-immigration supporters have their fringe parties to support and Labour really needs to focus on the important day to day issues which will gain them supporters from the centre and centre-right. Policies such as committing to improved rail links in the major cities or changing the taxation system such that low income earners are better off without adversely increasing the tax on higher income earners are ideas that often get broad support. In particular with taxation you could introduce a tax-free threshold, increase taxes slightly at the higher income bands to offset the tax loss without affecting the overall tax payments on a median income earner, and still introduce a small capital gains tax. Policies which are well explained and are positive for the country are likely to gain supporters from the centre of the political spectrum.
Unfortunately, it appears New Zealand is on track for yet another National Party dominated government. Once again, I wish that more young people would vote as many of the parties and policies which are best geared towards them come from parties on the left. Without a strong opposition it enables the ruling party to easily push through laws and policies which are damaging to large minority groups without consequence.