Prime Minister John Key is approaching the first year anniversary in just over a month of his third successive election victory and his biggest to date. It was an election victory that rocked the centre-left of New Zealand politics to the core, a victory that showed what a truly woeful state Labour was in. It was also the victory to mark the start of the third and – if New Zealand political history holds true – final term of Mr Key’s Government.
A year later, Labour is yet to have a decisive moment where it suddenly gains the initiative. But that might be okay if another rule of politics holds true: Oppositions rarely win elections so much as Governments lose them. There comes a point in time in a democratic Government where people simply tire of the Government of the day and vote for change. Perhaps that change might be for a third party Government. Perhaps it might be for the mainstream Opposition.
In the case of Mr Key’s Government, the signs are not good. The business community is tiring of Brand Key and all that it entails. Although Mr Key had to steer the economy through some tough times that never challenged the Helen Clark Government, it has also made some mistakes that were not characteristic of the previous Labour Government. It has also waged an unprecedented attack on New Zealand democracy that the nation is starting to wake up to. Try as he might, there is no shrugging off the fact that the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement protests today were by far the biggest yet. There is no shrugging off the fact that the dairy boom has ended. There is no shrugging off the fact that the coal industry appears to be in terminal decline, exacerbated by growing concern about climate change and also a massive slump in demand for it overseas. The global economy is not well and seems to be still struggling with post Global Financial Crisis blues.
The world is a sick place and New Zealand has failed to show the leadership under Prime Minister John Key that made it so respected on the world stage in past crises. The success of getting a temporary seat at the United Nations Security Council will be meaningless if we do not really push for greater accountability of the permanent five or reduce the veto power. The refusal to fully implement the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review conducted in January 2014 of New Zealand has been noticed by other nations, as has the refusal to properly commit to dealing with the growing concern about climate change.
Perhaps Labour can win on the knowledge Mr Key probably won’t be around as Prime Minister after the 2017 election, simply because history does not favour four term Governments. Or maybe the hour of Winston Peters and New Zealand First has come, for the party is stronger than it has been since 2005. Perhaps the Green Party, despite its tendency to get on a roll and then do something that alienates the centre of the social spectrum, might be about metamorphose into a credible coalition partner for Labour.
National Party supporters will disagree as they are entitled to. Stranger things have happened in politics, but conventional thinking strongly suggests Mr Key’s time as Prime Minister is clearly in its sunset phase. Which is quite fine by me.