Should we push back the election?
It’s not surprising that both Winston Peters and Paula Bennett think we should push it back a few months. They obviously think a later election would be to their advantage. Covid-19 is so big, there’s very little space for anything else in the day-to-day news coverage at the moment. By having the election in November, a bit more water will have passed under the bridge.
But even with Covid-19, and all of the fallout we’ll have to deal with in the next while, is five months not enough time to make a pitch to New Zealand voters? That’s how long we’ll have between Monday week, when cabinet will decide whether to move us off Level Four, and the scheduled date for our general election. Five months. Just think about what you were doing six weeks ago at the start of March; a lot can happen in five months.
And actually regardless of whether it’s September or November, National will find themselves with a strong pitch off the back of this.
Jacinda Ardern and this government have been at their very strongest in a crisis. The Prime Minister is a uniquely gifted communicator. She’s calm, she’s reassuring, she’s empathetic. At the moment, she’s leaning heavily on one of her best-performing ministers – Grant Robertson – and the expertise of competent, well-respected, public servants. Of course the government has made a few mistakes here and there but just look at the polling this week: a vast majority of New Zealanders regardless of their political stripes, think the government is doing a good job with the coronavirus response thus far.
If you think back to last year, it wasn’t all that dissimilar in the immediate aftermath of March 15th. Again, that calm, empathetic public messaging from Jacinda Ardern, and her poll numbers surged. Again, after the eruption on Whakaari White Island. I’m not suggesting the government hopes for crises, but clearly during crises the Prime Minister excels.
Outside of a crisis though, it’s a different story. When life’s a bit more normal, this government has struggled. Up until now, it’s done a poor job of efficiently progressing its agenda. Housing, child poverty, mental health, infrastructure, climate change, immigration... it hasn’t yet delivered on the big promises of Labour’s campaign.
And there lies National’s opportunity. Apart from a dumb speech at the beginning of all of this when Simon Bridges completely misread the mood of the nation, I think the opposition has done pretty well throughout the covid-19 response. They haven’t been overly critical or petty. They’ve been starved of airtime and headlines but they’ve done a pretty good job of scrutinising the response.
And when we’re out of lockdown and out of the immediate crisis, when we’re dealing with the realities of a significant recession, bet your bottom dollar National will go hard. The sell is obvious: National will say they guided New Zealand’s economy back to health after the Global Financial Crisis. And regardless of whether the election is in September or November, they’ll say they’re more efficient at getting runs on the board, projects in the can, at delivering on their promises. And even though most of us really value a calm, empathetic, reassuring communicator leading in the heat of a crisis, when life goes back to normal, when we’re out of lockdown but businesses are still going bust, some Kiwis will value different qualities.
Finally then, where does this leave New Zealand First?
It’s going to be much harder for them to find positives from Covid-19. Winston Peters has been working, sure, but hasn’t been a face of the response. In the coming months it might take some extreme moves to win back oxygen and attention.
Keeping the election in September is in Labour’s interests. But it hurts their coalition partner much more than it hurts National. September or November, whatever the Prime Minister decides might give us an insight about whether she wants another three years with Winston, or whether she’ll risk it and try and go without him.
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