National swings to the right


Was it Donald Trump? Was it Simon Bridges or was it Boris Johnson?

At least one of these leaders today featured significantly in the economic policy outlined by National leader Simon Bridges. United States President Donald Trump can take the credit for an idea adopted by Mr Bridges as he seeks to swing National towards the 2020 election and the prospect of a one-term Labour led Government.

It is classic blue ribbon politics from National, seeking to woo businesses that might feel like they have been short changed by the Labour-led Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Mr Bridges clearly not being of the same centrist cloth that saw Prime Minister John Key survive nearly three terms, has issued what to the conservative wing of New Zealand must seem like a call to arms.

In his outline Mr Bridges has made a number of pledges that point to an embracing of “free market” economics. Commentators have noted a swing towards Trumpian deregulation – an attack on “red tape” simply because they are regulations, and not necessarily because those regulations are bad. Mr Bridges has made a promise identical to one Mr Trump made after taking office whereby he would repeal two laws for every law introduced with the result being a 40% drop in new laws being made.

This willy approach raises as many questions as it does answer. National will claim that they are red tape, but if the past is the key to the future, it will most probably be attacks on occupational safety and health regulations, the Resource Management Act, banking and social laws designed to help the marginalized.

In a more ominous move that is likely to mobilise the Labour and Green Party base membership, Mr Bridges has also announced moves that will be seen as a clear and deliberate attack on the unions. By announcing a plan to stop unions getting Government preference in negotiations, Mr Bridges has attempted to undermine one of the key reasons for joining one in the first place.

National has gone one step further. At the risk of galvanizing the divided New Zealand First membership, they have chosen to raise the age of superannuation eligibility to 67. As a result in the next few days I expect to hear sermons from Winston Peters about the folly of doing so, and in the weeks and months to come as we start to look forward to the 2020 general election there will be clips of Mr Peters addressing his Grey Power constituents.

Instead of growing the economic pie as I have suggested by investing in research/science/technology and diversifying the export sector, they have decided to take an old, used and thus far not very successful knife out of the drawer. They have made it shiny and attempted to sharpen it in the hope that once again New Zealanders might be dazzled by the imagined allure of market economics.

Make what one will of these announcements, but I think we can be sure that the Government reaction will be substantial. It might not elicit new policy, but I expect to see a doubling down on existing policy and warnings to potential voters of what they might be playing with by voting for National. Maybe Mr Bridges is hoping that Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First will have forgotten by 2020 that these policies were announced. Maybe he is hoping to gain better traction and get the party moving again as a cohesive unit.

The 2020 election campaign might not officially start for several months, but the unofficial one is already revving its engine.

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