We all know from reading Nicky Hager's The Hollow Men (or watching the documentary) that the National Party actually advocates for a small section of society. Their policies rarely support most New Zealanders and after each period of a National led Government we have costly messes like leaky buildings and dead miners as the aftermath. This isn't to say that Labour shouldn't take responsibility for not repealing dodgy legislation, but National has always stood for less regulation, fewer protections for workers and the environment and an upward flow of money to the already rich.
The lasting consequences of this current National led Government are potentially going to be much more costly than the 1990s version. Our environmental degradation has never been worse, child poverty now effects 27% of children and Government debt has increased by $50 billion. There will be no easy or cheap fixes for any of these and we are still paying the costs from the 1990s.
The only people who do really well under National Governments are the already rich and the evidence for this can be readily seen. The wealthy are the only ones with any discretionary spending and it is mainly being thrown on their lifestyles, houses and new cars. The trickle down theory is still a myth with little credibility. National relies on the short term memory of voters and pre-election spending to create an image of caring for the majority when, in reality, we still have the fastest growing inequality in the OECD.
The National Party knows that most New Zealanders actually want clean rivers, we don't want our state assets sold off and we don't like dodgy back room deals with overseas corporates. Accusations and suggestions of corruption and conflicts of interest continually swirl around this Government and any questions regarding these are met with well practiced dodging and weaving from National's Ministers.
National has cleverly realised that turning the election campaign into a presidential one allows them to shift the focus from their lack of effectiveness or substantial policy to personal attacks on the credibility of opposition leaders. National have an abundance of corporate smarts and one of the largest teams of spin doctors (18% increase in 2013 Budget) of any previous Government. As with our 100% Pure tourist campaign, they know it is the image and spin rather than the substance that has the most sway at the end of the day.
Key has been marketed well, he has a light portfolio load and is able to be continually placed in the media eye rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous and powerful. His image appears with royalty, Hollywood moguls and the US President. He is our most successful celebrity Prime Minister who focuses on who he is seen with rather than the influence he can exert. Although he lives in a huge mansion, holidays in Hawaii and surrounds himself with body guards, Key is able to project the manner of an average kiwi bloke. His relaxed, 'she'll be right' approach strikes a chord with many New Zealanders for whom image is more important than what he actually does (try and name even one real achievement). Key is the Ronald Reagan of New Zealand politics, his genial folksy manner hides the calculated shifting of wealth from those who need it the most. This is most clearly seen in education where private schools have received an inordinate amount of funding despite catering for only 4% of students. Maori and Pasifika children, the 'priority learners', have actually received diminishing support.
John Key collects dirt in the same way Muldoon did. He has been quite open about his regular catch ups with the mud slinging blogger, Cameron Slater, and has referred to his file of damaging information. Any time he or his Government gets accused of dodgy activity he doesn't even try to deny it, he just pulls out something to throw back and the word 'hypocrisy' is thrown around with much enthusiasm. This has been used with great effectiveness to shift the attention from National's very compromised and conflicted relationships with wealthy Chinese businessmen. The charges against National's Ministers are actually quite substantial and, whether it be the favoritism shown to Orivida or attempts to influence police, National doesn't come out well.
When David Cunliffe came out swinging with accusations regarding the Government's relationship with the Chinese businessman Donghau Liu, Key was able to reach into his extensive file and pull out a letter that Cunliffe had sent in support of Liu in 2003. It didn't matter that there was no hint of corruption or undue influence being applied, a connection was found. Cunliffe's high moral ground was kicked out from under him and Key again avoided the scrutiny that should have been focused on his Ministers' behaviour and the media lapped it up.
While one could say that Labour, and the opposition in general, deserve what ever happens if they don't cover their backs, there does a appear to be an over-eagerness on the media's behalf when National holds out their diversionary tidbits. The Government should be held to account for their actions and too often the accusations from Key have little actual substance, yet little is done to check their veracity or relevance. How many times has Key suggested that Russel Norman did a deal with Dotcom when Russel has asked him a particularly hard question?
Maurice Williamson is still an MP, Judith Collins is still considered the highest ranked woman in National's cabinet and John Banks was able to have the confidence of the PM despite serious charges hanging over him...and yet a perfectly reasonable letter from Cunliffe, requesting information for a forgotten constituent, has the potential of causing him to lose the Labour leadership.
Despite their shocking record in government National remain high in the polls because they have successfully shifted the debate about politics to personality and image. They have cut funding to Statistics New Zealand and removed any substantial independent reviews of the effectiveness of their governance so that their spin dominates what is in the public domain. They managed to dispatch Goff and Shearer through personal attacks and smear campaigns they are ramping it up against Cunliffe. Up to now their personal attacks on Metiria and Russel have backfired but National's strategy is clear and this campaign is going to be a dirty one.