Winston rising, National indifferent and Labour idling

Just under five months out from the election, the winds of change are definitely blowing, but the weather system driving the winds is still some distance away.

The party that has the most to smile about is New Zealand First, whose Annual Convention is in Auckland on 15-16 July 2017. Slowly but steadily the trajectory of New Zealand First in the polls has been upwards – the latest Roy Morgan poll had New Zealand First on 10.5% which would just about get the party a 13th seat in Parliament.

Its Members of Parliament have been working steadily all term. Palmerston North List M.P. Darroch Ball has been scoring hits on the social welfare policies of National. Tracey Martin has made a good go of holding Education Minister Hekia Parata to account. Fletcher Tabuteau can take credit for his work trying to get the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement grounded for good. It will have to work hard this election because the party does not have major financial backers like the Greens, Labour and National do. And yet its trajectory is the single most likely thing to derail a fourth term for National.

After 8 years of Prime Minister John Key’s leadership wooing centrist New Zealanders, Maori voters with his easy going “aw shucks” persona, current Prime Minister Bill English is starting to gain a reputation as “Boring Bill”. His devout Catholicism and preference for the more traditional National ideology of farmers and business first, tougher on criminal offending will have pleased the right wing of National, but it is doing nothing to woo the centrist voters that will be necessary to ensure National win the hugely coveted fourth term.

National have much work ahead of them. Concerns about crime, housing, health and education are all slowly bleeding support. Environmental issues, the escalating international tensions and a wish to restart trade deals that New Zealanders oppose give the impression of a Government that is disinterested in the concerns of a growing number of voters. In any election year it is not a good idea ignore them. In an election year where the reward is a nearly unprecedented fourth term this could be a fatal miscalculation.

After eight years of sitting on the Opposition benches, one would think that Labour would be battle ready and the most dangerous party in the House. Some say Labour are “crusin’ for a bruisin'”, suggesting another electoral disaster is on the way. It has not yet made any substantive policy announcements. It’s caucus renewal does not seem to be happening very fast compared to their Green Party allies, who have announced an interesting array of candidates.

But there are some promising signs showing. Granted they were pretty easy to take, and failure to do would have been hugely damaging to Leader Andrew Little’s control of the party, Labour’s victory in the New Lynn and Mt Albert by elections would have been confidence boosters. And its appointment of Jacinda Ardern who took the Mt Albert by election as Deputy Leader acknowledges the need for a strong leadership team. However they must now press on, announce some substantive and bold policies, and get some potent candidates announced. The clock is ticking.

The overall appearance of the New Zealand political scene going into the election is of weather on a day where the air is definitely unstable, but nothing yet overtly happening. How much longer that will last, time will tell.

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