This afternoon came confirmation of something many had suspected: Prime Minister Bill English was going to set an election date for 2017.
23 SEPTEMBER 2017
When Mr English assumed the office of Prime Minister in mid-December, with Parliament about to rise for Summer recess people were not certain what the new year would bring. Would there be an early election in June or July, as happened in 2002 when the then Prime Minister Helen Clark was confident enough that her Labour-led Government would get re-elected, to go to the polls on 27 July 2002.
Ms Clark had several advantages that Mr English, who at that time was Leader of the Opposition did not. Her Government was high in the polls; National was viewed as weak and leaderless, despite having appointed Bill English to lead after his predecessor, Dame Jenny Shipley lost the 1999 election. When the 2002 election was over National had slumped to a level of strength in Parliament weaker than – despite its many problems – even this current Labour Party is at.
Mr English also does not historically have time on his side. Normally three consecutive terms in Government is viewed as enough by New Zealanders, who after 9 years are generally happy for someone else to make the mistakes. Only the war time Labour Government of Peter Fraser and the post-war National led Government of Prime Minister Keith Holyoake have managed to last longer than 9 years.
By abruptly resigning in December, former Prime Minister John Key brought 8 years of National enjoying what seemed like a never ending honeymoon period to an abrupt end. Coupled with a breast cancer scare to the popular Nikki Kaye and a rising New Zealand First, the owners of many a glum face in the National Party offices would have been hoping for an uneventful Christmas. Domestically it was quiet, but growing disquiet on the international stage over Donald Trump would have given the left-wing cause for cheer.
Normally a National-led Government is keen to be seen as friendly to the United States. However with growing uproar about President Trump’s Cabinet picks, their hard right ideological views and his insistence on using Executive Orders to get his promises carried out, Mr English finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to criticize the Government of a nation his party often admires when the rest of New Zealand does not.
And with housing becoming a major election issue when National would rather focus on the economy, is it just possible Bill English has misread the New Zealand public? Because with all that is going on on the world stage, and history not being on his side, that could be a fatal mistake on 23 SEPTEMBER 2017.