Editorial: Confidence in Key survives run of errors

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / NZPA
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / NZPA

Our latest political poll has found the country's mood to be remarkably stable. National has 47.5 per cent of those surveyed, Labour 34 per cent, the Greens 9.1 per cent, NZ First 4.4 per cent, Mana 1.7, Maori 1.3, Act, Conservative and United Future 0.5 each. In all cases the party's support is within one percentage point of where it was in our previous poll two months ago.

Yet those two months have brought National's backdown on school class sizes, the passage of asset sale legislation, embarrassments at the ACC and continuing publicity for problems caused by the sort of gambling that SkyCity casino wants to expand under a deal inspired by the Prime Minister to give Auckland an international convention centre.

Clearly, none of those issues has struck at the heart of the country's confidence in John Key and his Government. He remains the preferred Prime Minister of 63.5 per cent and 49.7 per cent think the Government is moving in the right direction. Again, those figures are within a percentage point of April's poll.

The endorsement of the Government's direction is perhaps the most remarkable since it reflects the state of the economy and the Government's response. A fourth year of sluggish economic activity, aggravated by the euro stalemate, is putting great pressure on governments elsewhere.

The United States economy is the main threat to President Obama's prospect of winning a second term. Opposition to "austerity" has put the Socialist Party in power in France, Britain's Conservatives trail Labour in polls and (relatively) hard times in Australia are contributing to the problems of the Gillard Government.

New Zealanders are no less aware of the eurozone debt crisis and its possible consequences for their economy. More than three-quarters of the latest DigiPoll survey sample said they were somewhat worried (64.4 per cent) or very worried (15.7 per cent). Yet they endorse, by a five-point margin, a direction Opposition parties call austere.

It is a programme that aims to contain the public sector's growth until the Budget returns to balance, which could be in 2015 if nothing worse happens to the world economy before then. But the Government is doing nothing to force the pace, neither cutting expenses now or stimulating activity with new public projects. It is placing its hopes on an export-led recovery, and may get one if 1.1 per cent growth in the first three months of the year was sustained in the second quarter just ended.

The first quarter's growth was mainly in farm production stimulated by an unusually wet summer. It has been followed by a severely cold autumn, which makes the latest poll even more surprising. Dismal wintry weather is not usually good for the political mood. All things considered, the Government has come through its hardest six months in surprisingly good shape.

It has got its most unpopular policy - asset sales - through Parliament and still has 18 months to get the share issues organised before the beginning of the next election year. National is looking every bit as stable as the last Labour Government at a similar stage and looks capable of lasting as long.

A second three-term government would be good for the country, restoring the stability and continuity the nation enjoyed before the political upheaval accompanying rapid economic reform. No country can endure for too long the stress and resentment New Zealand suffered in the last quarter of the 20th century.

If Helen Clark did nothing else, she restored the country's trust in its government and John Key has been careful to maintain it. Long may it last.

- NZ Herald

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