John Key’s resignation just made the 2017 election a battleground that Labour and the Greens can win on. Forget the National Party spin that it’s business as usual. John Key just took a big breath and blew away the house of cards. As Labour’s post-Clark troubles showed, you can’t transfer your mana to a successor. None of the prospects for leadership have the everyman easiness that allowed John Key to “float from cloud to cloud” as National went about gutting state services while leaving our wellbeing in the hands of the old, extractive economy.
The Mt Roskill win (our first real two-horse major party race since MMP) and the many Labour and progressive victories in the local government elections have proved that there is a future in policy-driven campaigns and the mobilisation of heartland Labour voters. Anyone who stood on the side-lines with admiration but an abiding sense of hopelessness should take great heart from this.
Michelle Boag can emphasise the continuity of people and policy until she’s blue in the face, but that’s actually the problem for National. Those people have presided over a spiralling housing crisis with still no serious plan to build affordable homes or redirect speculative investment to the productive economy. They’ve carved $1.7 billion from the health budget and frozen public education funding. Hell, they haven’t even maintained community policing. The asset sales programme reaped less than their lower estimates, the TPPA was a flop and the flag referendum a complete fiasco. Tax cuts have been funded by borrowing, greenhouse gas emitters protected, and we are just as dependent on commodity prices as ever we were.
I like Bill English. When National blocked the introduction of paid parental leave by one vote in 1999 he had the grace to talk to me about it. When I led the National Distribution Union he’d come and talk to delegates and it took him a whole term to gut trade union education funding and to implement National’s union-weakening policies. But he got there in the end. He’s been the project leader for the asset sales, flag debacle, housing crisis and dismantling of core public services cloaked in the language of social investment (which is a nothing more than the creation of a for-profit market in social services).
Key’s departure is coincidental with a fair bit of media soul-searching about how elections are covered. They missed the looming landslide in Roskill while happily playing along with Key’s snide attacks on the Labour leader. They still amplify anything that Winston Peters says in a desperate search for a NZ Farage-Trump. But without Key the Government is going to have a lot more explaining to do. After all Key got away without explaining much at all – on Saudi sheep, SkyCity Convention Centre shenanigans, illegal spying, Jason Eade – all batted away by quoting the three words in the report that weren’t as damning as everything else or tuning the guns on the messenger.
It just isn’t going to be as easy for 5thNationalGovernment 2.0. Reinvention is off the cards. There can be no fourth term legacy project for Key that the public might be persuaded to back. An internal fight is already looming over tax cuts and superannuation. Meanwhile, National are looking down the barrel of total dependence on Peters. Key saw that destroy Clark’s third term and I’m betting he didn’t want to deal with it in his fourth. A Maori-Mana Party compact will push that block towards Labour and a Green-Labour deal in Ohariu knocks out Dunne.
All of this means Andrew Little can lead the next Government. The job now is to maximise the combined Labour and Green vote. Labour’s attention should be unequivocally on core Labour issues – a fairer diversified economy, solving the housing crisis, reducing poverty, improving social services. The Greens must stop thinking about competing a weakened Labour Party and plan to be in Government. We need to hear James Shaw and Metiria Turei make it very clear that they are campaigning for Andrew Little to be PM. Campaign for the first Labour-Green government. National’s collapsing house of cards deals the left a completely new hand.