Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: An anti-Labour Party budget

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Opposition leader David Shearer responding after the reading of the Budget, Photo / Mark Mitchell
Opposition leader David Shearer responding after the reading of the Budget, Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Labour Party will be angry with Bill English's 2013 Budget. Not because it is so rightwing and austere - it's actually not - but because it undercuts so many of the areas in which Labour has been attempting to campaign on. It's a budget that is obviously highly calculated to disarm National's oppositions and any growing sense of unease the public might have about the Government. Labour would have been much happier to see a more traditional rightwing 'Budget for the boardroom', which it could easily attack and use to highlight National as the party of the rich and powerful.

Instead National has put together a very electorally smart Budget, one that tips its hat to many social concerns and traditional leftwing policies. For example much of the focus of the Budget is on housing, health, education and those in poverty - traditional Labour Party voter concerns. Much could be said, of course, about the whether such expenditures and plans are really up to the task of dealing with the severe problems in those areas, but nonetheless the National Government can show that it is actually trying to do something. This supposed shift towards social concerns has even prompted Matthew Hooton to argue that today's Budget indicates that 'Key has a deep personal commitment to addressing the needs and improving the life chances of what he terms the underclass' - see: Key can now return to his personal priority - helping the underclass (paywalled).

Even the proceeds from the unpopular sale of Mighty River Power have now been assigned to very worthy parts of the Christchurch re-build, especially hospitals, emergency services, and education - see Vernon Small's Budget boost for Chch rebuild.

Will Cantabrians be happy with what the Budget promises for the rebuild? The Press's deputy editor, Ric Stevens answers this question in Haggling continues over rebuild bill.

The other way in which the Budget is electorally clever is in being so boring and safe. By achieving surplus, Finance Minister Bill English has furnished National with the key ammunition for next year's election: that it is the party of economic competency and achievement.

The Budget is going to be hardly remembered in a few days' time. It isn't a Budget that any strong theme can really be attached to. It won't excite many people, and nor will it particularly upset anyone either. Instead it might be characterised as a do-nothing budget that re-assures people that this Government has things under control. This is a point well made by Tracy Watkins in Budget 2013 ain't no blockbuster. She says that the Budget is 'eminently forgettable'. Similarly, John Armstrong labels it a Steady-as-she-goes budget. He also points out that it 'seeks to scratch as many political itches as possible while having little in the way of extra cash to be able to do so to major effect'. The small size of that expenditure is emphasized also by Vernon Small, who says 'the extra spending is mainly rats and mice ... and some fairly skinny rodents at that' - see: Debt reduction still king.

Other commentators that are less than impressed include Corin Dann, who has called the Budget 2013 cautious, tentative, and Nadine Chalmers-Ross who declares that the Budget fails to inspire.

If anyone wonders why New Zealand's general elections are plagued by declining voter turnout - less than 70% at the 2011 election - today's Budget provides some idea. There was little real substance involved from any of the parties - no big ideas, no great vision, just scripted one-line jokes from all the party leaders.

Nonetheless, there's some interesting aspects to the Budget - especially some of the political rhetoric used - see, for example TV3's Key calls Labour 'the devil beast'. You can see some interesting visualisations of the Budget too - especially Keith Ng's very impressive Budget Tree Map, but also Stuff's interactive Budget tool, and its Tax-o-meter interactive. And for satirical coverage see Scott Yorke's Live updates and Ben Uffindell's What's in the Budget?.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

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.

Read more by Bryce Edwards

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