The Government might be coasting along nicely in the polls from a National Party perspective, but further evidence of third-term itis has begun to emerge with the Prime Minister saying that people unable to get proper housing should talk to the Department of Work and Income. The simpleness of this advice might be well meaning, but also coming so late in a three term Government which has constantly been assailed by concerns over housing affordability, the advice smacks heavily of a Government that is disinterested in the issue.
Like the previous three term National-led Government, this one is starting to be shown up short in issues to do with socio-economic well being such as welfare, housing, incomes among others. In the case of the previous Government of former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, the Government it was underestimating the public’s appetite for increasing spending on social welfare and stopping asset sales which were a major part of the then policy platform that ended their reign.
Governments have started off tending to be careful about alienating voters too quickly in case a backlash such as the one that may overwhelm the Liberals in Australia in a few weeks time occurs. However, as the number of consecutive terms increase so does the probability of a Government not being re-elected or collapsing mid term for one reason or another. Starting in the last year or so of the second term, a New Zealand Government tends to start thinking about the sort of legacy that it wants to be remembered for in terms of growing the country. In the case of this Government it might have been a new flag, except that New Zealanders voted to retain the existing one, having not been sold on the apparently sudden need for a change.
The old saying “Oppositions do not win elections; Governments lose them” rings true in a general sense. If it were to not, that would insinuate a dynamic and bold Opposition that stole a march on the Government, from which the latter could not recover. In the case of this Government after 7.5 years of a lacklustre opposition in Parliament, a combination of problems that the Government picked around the edges without making significant policy changes, is coming back to roost. On their own as individual issues they are probably survival, but a critical mass caused by their interaction – especially the housing crisis, the failure to address income inequality and the subsequent failings in education, health and other socio economic parameters – is potentially close to being achieved in terms of turning voters against the centre-right of New Zealand politics.
Still, there is about 14 months left and two more Fiscal Budgets (one being set down for this week, and one about the same time next year)to be delivered before this Parliament rises. Despite the clear bias of the Speaker of the House, the effectiveness of the Opposition is slowly growing. If the Opposition can land a couple of good policy hits in the months before this Parliamentary term ends and learn to start attacking the Government as a cohesive unit using the substantial ammunition now lying about, the odds of this being the last term of Mr Key as Prime Minister will improve significantly.