These are unfamiliar times for National and Labour. The latter will be on a high for bit longer yet from the events of 19 October 2017, where New Zealand First leader Winston Peters gave Labour leader Jacinda Ardern the right to form a Government. But what about the National Party getting used to the Opposition benches?
For a while National will be enthusiastic, possibly looking for opportunities to get an early start in attacking the new Government. For awhile there will still be a smile on the faces of National Party M.P.’s whose brains are not yet in tune with the fact that they will not be the ones passing laws, setting the agenda or the Budget for a change.
But at some point the reality will hit home. It will not just be in terms of having no Ministerial portfolio’s to look after. It will not be just in terms of the fact that many of them will have taken hefty pay cuts from their Ministerial roles. It will not just be in terms of having fewer, or at the least, drastically changed options for overseas trips acting on behalf of New Zealand.
There will be only so much that the right can do to attack the new Government during its honeymoon period without looking bitter and twisted. During this time, the public will be prepared to give Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her new Cabinet some space and patience whilst they learn the ropes, as few of them will have been Ministers before – New Zealand First Leader and Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters and a few others exempt.
Despite this, National appear to have already started attacking. Mr English and National’s finance spokesperson Steven Joyce have both started questioning the proposed fuel tax for Auckland to fund its transport needs. The attacks are classic National – attacking the fact that the taxes will cost Aucklanders more money. However at this time they come off to me at least as desperate and bitter, since National had 9 years to make Auckland’s transport more sustainable, and all that has been achieved is a worsening of congestion on many routes, an under funding of public transport and growing public disgruntlement.
The fact that this is already happening, whilst the new Government’s honeymoon period is barely starting, show that National are deeply hurting at losing office. This should perhaps not be a surprise. They had every reason other than the public mood for change, to think that a fourth term was theirs for the taking. They are the largest party in Parliament and their 56 Members of Parliament present a formidable attack machine, though it is yet to be retooled as an Opposition attack machine and not a Government sanctioned one. National have several things that they need to do in the next few months, aside from accept that – barring a spectacular Government collapse – they are destined for three years on the Opposition benches:
- Decide on Bill English’s future – will he really want to stick around once the reality of Opposition kicks in?
- Decide the style of Opposition that will be employed
- Reorganize their ranks – the line up that worked so well in Government might not be the best line up for the Opposition
- Look at their policy platform and how it can be tailored to acknowledge the fact that Government policies on health, social welfare, housing and education among others were failing
These are not insubstantial jobs. They will take time and patience. How bloodlessly will the leadership change that is probably coming, going to be? National will be keen to avoid the blood spillage resulting from the coups Messrs David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little as leaders of the Labour Party. They will want theirs to look like the peaceful transition from Mr Little to Ms Ardern in August this year – bloodless and quick.
But for now, the most unfamiliar task of all awaits. Getting used to being parked on the Opposition benches, most likely until at least 2020 and possibly beyond. That will take some getting used to.