The polls show that National are up, and Labour are down. Nothing Labour does appears to dent the popularity of John Key and his party.
On the positive side for Labour, National don’t appear to be doing very much, and appear to be just cruising. It’s hard to say the Nats have actually earned the high ratings. Their modus operandi is to play things safe and not engage in anything too controversial. Key has (for the time being) eschewed asset sales and other unpopular policies, but also continues a slow and gradual “softening up” of beneficiaries and other traditional soft targets of the conservatives. This keeps “middle” New Zealand largely quiet and content.
But a big lead can be easily eroded, and it sometimes starts with a moment, a spark, that captures the imagination of the public. National were dead and buried after 2002, and after Don Brash took over its polling was still dire. Then came his Orewa Speech and, in 2005, National came close to winning the election.
That may be what Labour needs if it is to have a shot next year – no, not a divisive race-based speech, but something “out of the blue”. But even if we don’t see anything too dramatic, the news may still be bad for John Key. Labour don’t need to get more votes than National, and may well be able to form a government on about 40-odd percent of the party vote, if the minor party results fall the right way. The Nats may lead by 22% in the latest One News Colmar Brunton poll, but that gap may close next year, once people start to think about who they are voting for and as we see and hear more of the Opposition. If, for example, the Nats get only 47% and ACT is wiped out (as it probably will be), John Key will have a real challenge forming a viable government. Would his supporters be prepared to countenance a deal with the Maori Party, without another party like ACT to turn to when the price is just too high?
The other alternative is that we see another 2002, where the main opposition party is savaged. The Nats got 21% of the party vote in 2002, and it was the end for Bill English as leader.
To avoid a 2002 scenario we may need to see some innovative and bold thinking from Labour.
Alas, Labour’s plan to exempt fruit and vegetables from GST will likely do nothing to lift its poll ratings. It isn’t a particularly bold measure, and will arguably make little difference to most people.
The move is intended to encourage people to eat less crap, because fruit and vegetable prices will become more affordable. But would a 15% drop make any real difference? And what is the cost to the tax system as a whole?
Our GST system is a simple one. From 1 October the supply of most goods and services will be taxed at 15%. There are exceptions, where GST is either not incurred, or is “zero-rated” (i.e. charged at 0%). But most people dealing with the GST system on a day to day basis just pay the 15% and (if GST registered) claim back at the same rate.
There appears to be debate over how complex the new system would be. Each side points to Australia for guidance, where there are GST exemptions for various foods. One side says the system in Australia is messy and complicated, while the other says it’s not so bad.
It is possible that the changes may not be as messy as they sound, but I’m not convinced. If we are going to play around with a very simple GST system then we should be certain of the benefits of doing so. Arguably, a few extra dollars a week in a family’s pockets is not going to make much difference, if any, to their eating habits.
This move will probably get a bit of publicity, because as an issue it’s easier to understand than many other Labour policies, even if the implementation of the policy may not be so simple. Which is a shame, because it’s hardly likely to capture the public imagination.
* The first and (probably) last Shirley MacLaine quote to ever appear on this blog.