Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Challenging times for National and Labour

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / NZ Herald
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / NZ Herald

This is a challenging time for both National and Labour, with negative media coverage and criticism affecting the leaders of both parties. In government, National has had a difficult year, and over the last fortnight this has continued unabated. Plagued by a variety of trivial - and often fleeting - minor scandals, National may incur the most significant damage from a difficult economy and its consequences - such as the latest record unemployment rate of 7.3%. The best critique of National's position comes in Gordon Campbell's Jobless figures make grim reading. Campbell ponders how bad this could be for National, especially because added to the 'unemployed' are the 'jobless' and the 'under-employed', creating a category of 400,000 New Zealanders. National will continue to enjoy a reputation for good economic management, Campbell says, but "it risks being seen as focused on the needs of top income earners, and out of touch with working families". In another column, On the government's bad week, Campbell also catalogues ten recent negative headlines for the Government.

For a further roll call and analysis of National's problems, see PR professional Mark Blackham's latest blogpost Slates slipping off National's roof. Blackham explains why the latest unemployment figures are so bad for the Government. He also comments on Key's recent "jocular" wisecracks, saying that regardless of "whether these cracks are serious or not, last year they never would have been controversial.

From this year, they always will be. John Key would be wise to realise the honeymoon is finally over, and adjust accordingly". In terms of the economy, National and John Key also get a telling off from Fran O'Sullivan in Time for Key to call an economic summit. She says that National's inaction is inexcusable and Key's shrug of his shoulders about the unemployment figures "doesn't cut it".

National's second-term blues are the main discussion theme for a very interesting interview-article on John Key by Audrey Young - see: Key: 'You are not going to change me'. In this, Key appears relatively upfront and genuine, providing a strong hint as to why he continues to be popular amongst voters. Audrey Young has also evaluated the National ministers, providing scores for each in Assessing the Government: Key team's report card. The top ministers are: Chris Finlayson, Tony Ryall, and Judith Collins, and the bottom are Hekia Parata, Kate Wilkinson and Phil Heatley. Young elaborates on the high performers in another item, Finlayson the minister for results. David Farrar evaluates the evaluations and reckons some of the scores are actually too generous - see: Audrey's Ministerial Report Card. See also, Danyl Mclauchlan's Rating the Ministers, which explains why Paula Bennett is a successful politician.

For another insight into why John Key might not be particularly damaged by recent gaffes, see Bob Jones' It's retarded and gay not to see funny side of life. But not everyone is enamoured with Key's lightheartedness - see Winston Peters' opinion piece, John Key the Marxist, in which he admonishes the PM for his "preference for cracking inappropriate jokes and staging stupid stunts instead of dealing with serious issues facing the country". Also, see Steve Braunias' very funny Secret diary of John Key.

The Labour Party's challenges at the moment obviously relate to the party's beleaguered leader David Shearer, following the intense criticism of him from the leftwing blogosphere. Some help has been at hand, however, with a number of recent expressions of support for his continued leadership in the mainstream media. Unfortunately for Shearer this support is all coming from rightwing or Establishment types. Fran O'Sullivan is the most prominent among them with her column singing the praises of the Labour leader and describing his political vision as having "widespread appeal to New Zealand businesses and middle-class voters" - see: Shearer's vision can unite Labour.

Support for Shearer has also come from the Herald in the form of an editorial, All Shearer may need is more time. Other conservative voices favouring Shearer include David Farrar, Cameron Slater, the NBR, and Matthew Hooton. Certain sympathy is also shown for the Labour leader by Cathy Odgers in The Good News For David Shearer. Such endorsement might well be the kiss of death for Shearer. And Shearer's supporters are also being given coverage - see, for example, Audrey Young's profile on Josie Pagani: Standing her centre left ground. Unsurprisingly, there appears to be a feeling on the left that the Establishment - or at least the National Party - is rallying behind Shearer to keep him as the moderate and weak leader of the Labour Party. There is even now a Facebook page : Nats4Shearer.

Chris Trotter has taken issue with Fran O'Sullivan's endorsement of Shearer - particularly her advice not to fear upsetting "grassroot Labour Party members" - see: Ms O'Sullivan's Curious Commentary. Others in the blogosphere have focused on the disparaging statements that Shearer and his colleagues have made about the blogosphere - see Martyn Bradbury's If Labour have finished mutilating The Standard... Pete George's Shearer and MPs dismiss blog opinion, the Jackal's Bloggers are voters too, and on a similar critical topic, The Standard's Labour Conference 2012: how is social media formed? The general consensus amongst bloggers is, unsurprisingly, that "Labour ignores social media at its peril". Nonetheless, according to blogger Pete George, there is good reason to question the credibility of The Standard, where so many of the authors write anonymously. George also speculates on the identity of The Standard's leading blogger, 'Eddie' - see: The Standard's credibility problem. This a general topic that will be of increasing importance for politics and social media.

There will be intense interest in Shearer's speech at this weekend's Labour Party conference, and already the speculation is that he will unveil a new leftwing housing policy - see Vernon Small's Shearer aims for lift from housing plan. A critical response to this has already been published on The Standard: Looking for a new left direction: more than just one housing policy. Similarly, another Standard post admonishes Labour for its refusal to break fully with Rogernomics - see: Break For The Future.

The other focus of Labour's conference will be constitutional change, which is more interesting than it sounds - see Claire Trevett's Labour eyes leadership battle oath. There are also a large number of policies being voted on, which David Farrar lists and reacts to in the blogposts Be afraid, be very afraid and Be even more scared.

Other recent important or interesting political items are:

Commentators and experts continue to ponder the deeper cause and significance of the Pike River mining disaster and they are all worth reading. Sean Plunket says that the miners themselves shouldn't escape some of the blame, and nor should the voters who elected parties that implemented the regulations around mining - see: We all share blame for Pike River. Similarly, Dave Armstrong declares "Deregulation is dead! Long live regulation!" in Why we are all guilty. West Coast MP Damien O'Connor expresses remorse for not acting on his knowledge of the problem - see Krissy Moreau's MP O'Connor feels guilty not heeding Pike mine warning. Ross Henderson suggests that in the fields of politics and media, the problem is that business people are given too much respect and trust - see: Put safety before profit. A very good Press editorial explains that no one did anything about the looming disaster because New Zealand has a culture of opposition to whistleblowing and the existing whistleblowing legislation is inadequate - see: Where were the mine whistleblowers? Economist Rod Oram says that our pragmatic psyche is to blame - see: The tragedy of Kiwi ingenuity. Tracy Watkins laments the part played by the decline in the culture of the public service - see: No minister, there are no heroes here. And John Armstrong says the Royal Commission's findings will have significant ramifications for all government departments - see: Fallout of Pike River extends past tragedy.

There is little appetite for New Zealand to become a republic according to a poll published by TVNZ, which shows an overwhelming majority wish to retain the monarchy - see: Kiwis will be ok with royal costs - Governor General. But could this be because New Zealanders don't know how much the royals cost the country? Vernon Small explains why the government will not release the latest costings until after the royals have departed: Royal tour: why the delay in cost data? Meanwhile, Republican/Green James Shaw diplomatically makes the case that A republic New Zealand is overdue. Paul Little asks whether we really should want someone as politically active and devious as Prince Charles as this country's next head of state - see: Heir on very thin constitutional ice.

How do New Zealand elections compare to those of the US? UMR pollster Stephen Mills has been in the US following the presidential campaign and says New Zealand elections win in every way.

The splits in Maoridom over the water claims are deepening - with Ngai Tahu being accused of treachery for its apparent latest support for the Government against the Maori Council - see Adam Bennett's Ngai Tahu's asset sales move 'splits Maoridom'.

The defamation battle between Judith Collins and Labour MPs Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little is over. But the big question asked by Scott Yorke, is So Who Won? According to Cathy Odgers, the answer is the Labour MPs - see: The Settlement - Unspun.

Are our parties legitimate? This is the question asked by Natasha Smith in her 9-minute item on TV3's The Nation about political party membership numbers and their registration with the Electoral Commission. The item is also summarised and discussed by blogger Ele Ludemann in What counts as a party member?

Finally, the best political satire in the blogosphere comes this week from Scott Yorke (A Statement From Hekia Parata) and Danyl Mclauchlan (Education Minister translated redux).

- NZ Herald

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Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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