Guest post by Hugh Pavletich
This week’s big local political news is NZ Labour’s Travails. A fairly balanced Otago Daily Times editorial summarises, asking rhetorically:
Can it get any worse for Labour leader David Cunliffe … six months out from the September 20 general election?
The results of the Herald DigiPoll survey released this week put Labour's support down to 29.5%, the lowest it has been since Mr Cunliffe took over the leadership from David Shearer in September last year, and Mr Cunliffe's individual support down to 11.1%, lower than the worst DigiPoll rating of former leader David Shearer (of 12.4%).
The results will be frustrating and concerning for the Labour Party and Mr Cunliffe. His popularity has taken a major dive from the early days of his promotion (where he polled 37.7% in a DigiPoll survey).
He has also been criticised for his performance in the House, where deputy leader David Parker, Grant Robertson and Shane Jones are the Labour MPs most visibly making an impact and confronting the National-led Government on issues. Even in election year, Labour seems to be stuck in the one role, that of attacking and denigrating, while failing to offer viable alternatives…
In contrast, National's popularity remains strong (50.8%) and it seems Mr Key can do little wrong - his personal popularity is up to 66.5%, his best second-term rating, albeit down from first-term highs of more than 70%. And even with the fallout from Judith Collins' Chinese business meetings, the Government's continued asset sales push despite their substantially reduced revenue, controversy over the SkyCity deal and illegal spying, several contentious education sector issues, privacy breaches, and continued heartache and frustration for many Christchurch residents still battling with post-quake bureaucracy.
How can National remain so popular, Labour must wonder?
The question is particularly pertinent in a media environment so saturated with the same big-government sympathies as the Labour left that they find the very question incomprehensible.
Perhaps the divergence is in large measure due to the expansion of the internet, with people having access to better quality information, and the enhanced ability to converse and debate public policy issues.
The declining heritage media is increasingly losing the capacity to control the flow of information, to push its own political agendas (most often favouring the failed interventionist Left) and to protect institutional power and special interests.
The tool of the internet could be described as a “disinfectant for democracy.”
One result is that government is increasingly being seen as the problem, not the solution. (The irony, given the National Government’s own big-government failures, is that they are increasingly seen as best representing this growing view.)
As just one glaring example of obvious failure, the Christchurch earthquake non-recovery has been a cruel lesson for many in the incompetence of Government, both at central and local level. An lesson obvious to everyone except the media and political elites.
A $40 billion series of events, that should be costing around $15 billion – with the extra cost and delays directly attributable to the apparently incurable disease of top-down political management.
Worse still, political institutions with their inertia have failed to provide leadership on the critical need to progressively “de-risk” our urban areas (with affordability, mobility, resilience) for future seismic events.
And big government’s obvious role in making NZ homes severely unaffordable has escaped nobody’s notice except the elites.
If politicians and political institutions fail to perform to an acceptable standard, they can expect enhanced public scrutiny and accountability.
So to become relevant, the Left generally will need to put a stop to its hostility to open markets (as the Chinese Communist Party is doing) and instead come up with workable solutions, where Government across the board is seen as a fair and competent referee, with no place for cronyism.
Beleaguered current Labour Leader David Cunliffe touched on this with recent comments on “crony-capitalism” and political favouritism. (Kiwipolitico covered this serious issue about two years ago with a post on ‘A Culture of Impunity?’, and I to touched on the issues with this post on ‘Suffocating Bureaucacy & Failed Institutions.’ And ACT leader Jamie Whyte pointed out last week the obvious contradiction in Cunliffe opposing Key’s cronyism while proposing a vastly enlarged and institutionalised cronyism of his own.)
In its concluding comments, the Otago Daily Times editorial emphasises the importance of a strong and effective Opposition …
If so, the real loser is New Zealand, because a strong, viable opposition is vital to democracy - and to offer real and meaningful choice for voters.
If the Left is again to be relevant, it must repair to its genuine concern for the poor and downtrodden, while reacquainting itself with the only method yet found for removing vast swathes of the population from poverty: genuine and non-cronyist free markets.
UPDATE: See, most people have worked out this is the way the world now works…