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NZ POLITICS DAILY: What will happen in 2014?

Bryce Edwards
Wed, 08 Jan 2014
What can we expect to happen in New Zealand politics in 2014?
Political commentators and bloggers are in the midst of publishing their predictions, forecasts and analysis for 2014. This column points to the more interesting and important views being put forward, details two major issues that are set to dominate this election year, and looks at the challenges ahead for the Government and Opposition. 
Grand predictions
A few political commentators boldly make precise predictions at the start of each year. The bravest and most interesting predictions come from the Fairfax parliamentary gallery, who have published their Predictions for the new year.... Particularly interesting predictions are: National will get a third term, a Green MP will resign at the election, numerous MPs will lose their seats, ‘Irrespective of the election result, David Cunliffe will stay on as Labour leader’, and ‘Conservative leader Colin Craig will stand in the East Coast Bays seat, his party will get into Parliament but will not cross the 5 per cent threshold’. 
David Farrar also comments on these predictions in his blogpost Fairfax’s 2014 predictions. But more importantly, Farrar has his own forecast in My 2014 predictions. Both Fairfax and Farrar also evaluate their predictions for last year – see Stuff’s 2013: How right (and wrong) we were and Farrar’s Scoring my 2013 predictions
Colin Espiner is also fairly brave and particular with his predictions – see his column, 2013's outstayed its welcome. What's next? He also predicts an election win for National, with the help of the Conservatives. 
The Herald forecasts some political issues for the year: ‘The hottest issues tipped to divide polling booths this year are: child poverty and the wage gap; housing affordability; the price of electricity; Maori affairs; and watching party leaders battle it out’ – see: Welcome 2014: 10 reasons why this year should be a great one
For a more humorous take on what’s coming up, see Scott Yorke’s My 2014 predictions, which includes possibilities such as: ‘A series of hilarious misunderstandings will result in Simon Cunliffe, the chief press secretary for the Labour Party leader, becoming Prime Minister in November’.
Major issue #1: The importance of minor parties
At this stage it appears this year’s general election could go either way. Opinion polls show that the Labour-Greens bloc and National continue to have even support. Most commentators are wary of predicting the outcome of the election, and instead stress the similar chances that either side have. For example, TVNZ’s Corin Dann says ‘The 2014 election is shaping up as a good old fashioned cliff hanger and is anyone's to win’, and blogger Martyn Bradbury predicts ‘an election that is razor close’. 
As usual, neither Labour nor National will be able to govern alone, and the role of support parties will be crucial in helping either achieve a majority. This means that there will be an especially strong focus on minor parties this year. The questions will be around which parties are likely to make it into Parliament – and in what sort of numbers – what major parties they will help form a new administration, and how they will coalesce and survive in government. 
Scaremongering about minor parties will form a large part of the tactics of all political parties, but especially Labour and National, who will seek to drive up concerns about the supposed extremism of the minor parties their opponents will rely upon to form a government. Gordon Campbell puts this very well: ‘in 2014 we are going to be hearing less about whether a centre left coalition or a centre right coalition might have the better plan to meet our current and future needs – and a lot more about how scary those weirdo junior partners may be. It’s going to be a WWF Smackdown in 2014: Crazy Colin vs Red Russel. A reality check: in a year from now, either Colin Craig or Russel Norman will be holding down a senior post in Cabinet. Chances are, the nation will survive either outcome’ – see: On year 2014, and not letting it spoil your Christmas
There will also be some focus on how minor parties will cope in the next coalition government – especially the Greens and the Conservatives. Matt McCarten explains part of the problem for the minor parties: ‘Here's the complication. Two parties are viable coalition partners because they have policy compatibility. But that also makes them electoral competitors. The better they work together the bigger party gets the kudos.  Meanwhile, the smaller party suffers from its supporters' disappointment at not getting enough. Consider National and Act; and Labour and the Alliance.  NZ First was tossed out of parliament and was lucky to get back. United Future has dropped to one MP. The Maori Party is unlikely to survive National's bear-hug. Even the Greens are starting to suffer in the polls as Labour's fortune rises.  The 2014 election will rest on a handful of votes and may even be decided by a single MP from a minor party’ – see: Just one MP may call the shots
Vernon Small also stresses the importance but also vulnerability of minor parties in his column New-look government certain. He says that ‘With so many minor parties so close to their last gasp, and the two big blocks equally matched, the rise or fall of a potential government could turn on a political dime’. Small suggests the possibility of the ‘massacre of the minnows’.
Tim Watkin has a useful analysis and overview of the current state of the political parties – see: The last post... for 2013, polls update & moments of the year. He suggests that most political parties have reason to be concerned at the moment, but ‘If anyone is going to break out the booze and have a ball, it's Winston Peters and Colin Craig. Those two are both very well positioned to launch strong campaigns next year, with New Zealand First on a healthy 4.3 percent and the Conservatives featuring on 1.9’. Watkin also makes some good points about the burgeoning National-Conservative relationship, which he says was one of the major developments of the last year: ‘For the right, it's Key opening the door to Craig. This is a game-changer on that side of the House and a clear sign that Key knows how tenuous his hold on the ninth floor is. For the man who came to power warning of a "five-headed monster" on the left, it's hardly a sign of strength that he's now openly contemplating the need for his own fifth head’.
Some pundits are already writing Peters and New Zealand First off. Vernon Small says that ‘NZ First thrived last time, thanks in part to Labour supporters voting tactically at the last minute, but that is not likely to be such a strong incentive next time around. If National again rules him out of a possible deal, and the Conservatives keep eating his lunch among older, conservative, and economic nationalist voters his base could be severely squeezed’ – see: New-look government certain
Similarly, Martyn Bradbury says ‘Has Winston got one more left in the tank? The conventional wisdom in NZ punditry is never to write Winston Peters off, well, I am. NZ First made it across 5% last time because of 2 things – the first was the utter failure of Phil Goff to perform as an opposition leader and the second was the ridiculous Epsom Tea Pot fiasco. This time around Cunliffe will be a star performer during the election and there won’t be any repeat of the Tea Pot nonsense, with Winston positioning to be a coalition option for National, the electoral seduction of voting for him to throw the Government out will not be enough and National Party voters would prefer to vote United Future or ACT than Winston’ – see: Predictions 2014: Snowden, oil leaks & who wins the election?
And Colin James says this about Peters: ‘His looming question is a dignified exit — Sir Winston, High Commissioner in London? — if voters don’t retire him first’ – see: The year of the Southland drawl
Kim Dotcom is already a force in New Zealand politics, and will inevitably feature prominently in 2014. Blogger Martyn Bradbury forecasts Dotcom to be the ‘Most important person politically in 2014’ based on the following argument: ‘His legal case against Key in March stands to be the most important political event of the year that will overshadow everything else. Snowden hasn’t released more than 5% of what he has, and purposely the NZ section hasn’t been made public yet, if Dotcom proves that John Key has lied to NZ as to when he was informed of Kim’s existence, Key will have his credibility mortally wounded. Expect this to have more impact on the election date than anything else’ – see: Predictions 2014: Snowden, oil leaks & who wins the election?
Dotcom’s importance will also grow if his promised political party gets off the ground. Vernon Small writes at length about the ramifications of the megaparty being established in his column The wrecking ball of change. Small is worth quoting at length: ‘Insiders on both sides of the political divide seem convinced the giant German wrecking ball will go ahead, with John Key as his principal target.  There is little doubt that if it does win seats in the House, its votes will be cast against National. But it is not a question of where its vote goes, but where it comes from.  Both sides are privately convinced it could harm them. Profile a prospective Dotcom supporter and you get a young, internet-savvy, protest (or possible non-) voter, disgruntled with spying laws in particular. Oh, and faster, cheaper broadband would be nice.  That suggests they are more likely to be drawn from the Greens, Mana and the Left of Labour. The downside for National is if it motivates more of the young, disaffected, non-vote to turn out on polling day.  It is easy to wave away such a party as an also-ran - a more geekish version of the Bill and Ben Party or McGillicuddy Serious.  But an anti-establishment, anti- politician appeal catapulted comedian Beppe Grillo's party to an extraordinary success this year, turning a blog into Italy's third-largest political movement.  Dotcom's play-thing may be a more potent force than Colin Craig's Conservatives’.
Details of the Dotcom party will be fascinating, and amongst David Farrar’s predictions for 2014 is this: ‘A prominent journalist will stand as a candidate for the Kim Dotcom Party’. 
But could another minor party emerge to steal the show? If Ben Uffindell’s Civilian Party eventuates it will be worth watching as it could manage to win over the youth protest vote. In his blogpost, Party prospects for 2014, Pete George points out the potential of such a party: ‘There’s huge disillusionment in New Zealand politics. If Uffindell sell something different and tap this huge voter base it could get interesting. Of course this depends on whether Uffindell launches a serious party or not.  Offering something entirely different has far more chance of interesting a few of the many who opt out of voting, and The Civilian Party may have a much better chance of doing this than the Labour-Green approach of convincing the dis-enfranchised that the same old socialism is worth voting for’.
Major issue #2: The Economy
Both National and Labour appear determined to make economic issues central to this year’s election campaign. National’s main campaign pitch will build on its economic achievements – with a trumpeting of the flourishing economy. Certainly the media is full of predictions of the golden weather about to arrive for the economy – see, for example the Herald’s editorial Sun shines on economy as 2014 dawns and Michael Fox’s Welcome to the boom of 2014. For an even more interesting analysis of what is coming, see Brian Gaynor’s Next year an economic cracker, which compares the coming boom with what New Zealand experienced in previous decades. Gaynor concludes that ‘the outlook for the New Zealand economy is exciting, the best it has been since the early 1970s’. And even if some sort of global catastrophe struck, Colin James argues that New Zealand is well placed – in many different ways – to deal with it – see: NZ in 2014: more resilient and attractive than we think
In his forecast for the year, Colin Espiner focuses mainly on the predicted economic boom, saying ‘2014 will be the best year for the New Zealand economy in a decade. Treasury is picking 3.6 per cent growth; I reckon it will top 4 per cent, making us the fastest-growing economy in the Western world’ – see: 2013's outstayed its welcome. What's next? These economic factors mean Espiner is confident in picking that the Government will stay in power: ‘Prime Minister John Key will win a third term in November’ because ‘voters will pick the devil they know, rather than turfing out a government in economic good times’.
National will seek to demonstrate its economic management credentials by attaining a return to surplus in this year’s budget – however slight it might be. According to Patrick Gower ‘It will be an absolute central plank of National's election campaign next year, and English has delivered.  National wants to say "Labour and the Greens will put it all at risk – we won't."  It is going to be an attack campaign – and English has put the bullets in the gun’ – see: Politician of the Year – Bill English
Labour also will seek to make economic issues part of the debate – pointing to the shortcomings of the Government’s economic management and also focusing on inequality and poverty. Corin Dann explains: ‘Going into 2014 a big debate now looms about who will actually benefit from the predicted economic boom next year.  Will the economic dividend be shared by firms passing on solid pay rises to workers? Will those gains be wiped out by rising interest rates?  The government can't make firms pass on productivity gains so this is a big area of vulnerability for National and will shape the election campaign in my view.  While National will argue that electing a Labour/Greens government will risk the recovery, Labour can turn around and argue that only a left wing government can ensure that everyone benefits from the recovery’ – see: The year in politics.
Vernon Small says that ‘how the two main blocs sell their message about the economy’ will be ‘the keystone to victory next year’ – see: The wrecking ball of change. Small says ‘Even a promise of distant tax cuts, contingent on forecast surpluses being achieved or exceeded, will contrast with Labour's capital gains tax and promised new top personal rate.  But the half-year update also sets out Labour's economic attack lines, based around inequality, loud and clear’.
Fran O’Sullivan also says that ‘Cunliffe wants to focus the political debate on inequality. The "many versus the few" slogan that is redolent of Labour's 2011 election campaign will be brought back in a big way in 2014 with a renewed focus on living wages’ – see: Big problem for both Cunliffes. This won’t be easy, O’Sullivan says, because ‘Labour's David Cunliffe faces a conundrum - how to convince New Zealand voters it's time to break away from the "old economic orthodoxies" when the data shows the country is poised for a relative boom?’
For an idea of how the Government’s economic management and vision can be lampooned, see Danyl Mclauchlan’s blogpost Uncertainties of 2014. He also raises the inequality issue: ‘will the benefits of the growth be distributed and pay off for National during the election? Or are all the dire-warnings from left-wing politicians about structural inequality in the economy accurate? If so then economic growth will simply lead to higher interest rates with wage-stagnation, which will hurt National’.
Other economic-related issues will also be important – for example housing (especially in Auckland and Christchurch). For more on this, see Catherine Harris’ Election stoush building over housing. She sums up this key battleground: ‘On one hand, the Labour party's solution is simple and clear: a capital gains tax on secondary homes to cool prices, a ban on foreign buyers to keep supply for Kiwis, and the state-funded building of 100,000 houses over 10 years.  On the other, you have the Government pulling various levers to help stimulate the market without embarking on a huge state-house building programme’. 
Challenges for the Government
For the best analysis of the challenges faced by the National Government, see Fran O'Sullivan’s Plenty of concerns to drive Key's year. She suggests that National has become complacent and flabby, and that a number of key issues remain to be addressed: ‘There will – and should be – plenty of challenges ahead on the policy front including those posed by a similarly recharged David Cunliffe to keep the Key Government on its toes. Think compulsory national savings; broadening the tax base to include capital gains taxes; raising the age of national superannuation eligibility; dealing to youth unemployment and the underclass, all areas where Key is vulnerable when it comes to the long-term trends’. O’Sullivan also says, ‘English and Key might be tempted to announce a new tax cuts programme to take place in the 2014-2017 parliamentary term’.
The Government will also be hoping that April’s royal baby tour will have a positive spin-off. For a look back at the last such tour in 1983, and how the then prime minister, Rob Muldoon, handled the tour see Michael Field’s Don't expect repeat of the Buzzy Bee
For a satirical take on how National might seek to campaign for re-election, see The Ruminator blog’s Secret National Party 2014 Campaign video
Challenges for Labour
So far David Cunliffe has proved to be a particularly amorphous or chameleon politician, so Fran O'Sullivan asks what version of Cunliffe we’ll see this year: ‘Will it be the crusading politician who wants to bring down bloated plutocrats, raise the underclass up and cut the ground out from under particular corporates through legislative intervention?  Or will it be the more considered politician - an experienced former cabinet minister who is prepared to take advice and feedback from affected players instead of ramming decisions down their throats with a damn the consequences mentality?’ – see: Big problem for both Cunliffes.
The ability of Cunliffe to successfully lead and revitalise Labour will be central to the year in politics. Danyl Mclauchlan blogs about Labour’s problems, saying, ‘The National government’s biggest strategic advantage for the last six years has been the Labour Party and the fact that they seem less like a party and more like a rabble of wildly self-ambitious politically inept political-science graduates and, simultaneously, pretty much the last people you could trust to run the country. Can they rally behind David Cunliffe? Can Cunliffe avoid the endless series of gaffes that crippled Goff and Shearer? His first few months haven’t been very inspiring’ – see: Uncertainties of 2014.
Chris Trotter appears to think that Cunliffe is still fighting for control of his party. In his blogpost, "The Defining Challenge Of Our Time", Trotter says there’s a fight going on within the party over economic direction – a ‘struggle between moderates and radicals is underway’, and that this mirrors a wider societal one for election year in which ‘the debate between Left and Right will be focus on rising economic inequality and what, if anything, should be done to reduce it’. And in another column, 2014: A year for 'Glorious Revolution'?, Trotter hopes that such a debate will extend into the greater populace, with a questioning of the ‘30-year neoliberal modernisation programme unleashed’ in 1984.
Colin James says if Cunliffe ‘wins next year he would likely prove a capable prime minister.  But there are questions: policy inconsistencies, glib one-liners, some of which rebound, some abrasive personal relationships, the fact that he came second in the caucus vote.  Cunliffe has yet to earn real unity from the party’ – see: The year of the Southland drawl.
Tim Watkin also sees Cunliffe in some trouble, and predicts he will push the party back rightwards: ‘He's stalled in recent months and made some sloppy errors, so will need to lift his game. Having played to the left now to secure his position, expect Cunliffe to tack back to the centre in the new year’ (The last post... for 2013, polls update & moments of the year). Corin Dann says something similar about Cunliffe: ‘most of his energy to date seems to have been directed inwards at the left of the party in the wake of his election, and he will need to make the transition to speaking more generally to middle New Zealand next year’ – see: The year in politics.
Labour activist Patrick Leyland sees things differently, expecting more leftwing policy from Cunliffe: ‘it is fairly likely that he will attempt to snatch the political agenda in late January or early February with a “state of the nation” type speech. The only way that this will be a worthwhile endeavour for him will be if he has some new policy initiatives to announce. Given the hard left rhetoric we saw in the Labour leadership contest, I’d expect to see something like the re-nationalisation of Chorus, or a massive spend up on public transport’ – see: How will Cunliffe start 2014?
Finally, Toby Manhire begins his latest column by saying, ‘Only a great fool prints screeds of predictions for the year ahead. So here are 100 of them’ – see: What's 2014 bringing? Take your pick from this lot. His whimsical predictions make light of the whole early January prediction business while cleverly lampooning New Zealand politics, politicians and pundits. 
Bryce Edwards
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Bryce Edwards
Wed, 08 Jan 2014
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NZ POLITICS DAILY: What will happen in 2014?