Is it a case of 'the less said, the better' for Labour? The next election is a long way out but the trends are all looking promising for David Shearer to become the next prime minister. Apart from the class size controversy, which Shearer and Labour can take credit for seizing on early and exploiting efficiently, the Greens and National have probably had more impact on Labour's poll ratings. While Shearer has promised to eventually reveal his grand vision, the temptation now must be to revert to that tried and tested formula of being as bland and uncommitted as possible. This is the way most elections that change governments are won - as epitomised by National's 2008 victory when it posed as 'Labour-lite'.
Playing safe will have it's own consequences though. Voters may well wonder exactly what sort of government Shearer is likely to lead. Certainly leftwing bloggers Danyl Mclauchlan (The vision vacuum) and Robert Winter (Polls turning; now, where's Labour's vision?) think Shearer still need to present a coherent programme to inspire voters. Just getting Labour supporters to even turn out on election day is becoming a challenge - see the No Right Turn blogpost, Choice and turnout.
Clearly, as the Chris Trotter vs Josie Pagani spat shows, there is still much debate to be had at a fundamental level between those: 1) on the left and right of the party, 2) those dissatisfied and satisfied with David Shearer's leadership, and 3) focusing on substance versus style. David Cunliffe is trying to fill the vacuum by invoking the heroic deeds of past Keynsian policies see The Standard's Cunliffe attacks Nats' crony capitalism. Yet while Cunliffe glowingly describes the impressive list of infrastructure built in spite of (and specifically to cure) the great depression, apart from some more R&D funding there are no commitments to anything approaching that scale and vision from 'modern' Labour.
Labour's cautious and bland approach will play into the Greens' hands, allowing them to range far and wide and continue to project themselves as the fresh thinkers with integrity and bold ideas. So, for example, Clayton Cosgrove siding with National's Tim Groser to defend the Trans Pacific Partnership is the type of gift to the Greens that Labour can't afford to make too often - see: 'Sell out' accusations follow leaked paper. Almost every country that has completed a trade deal with the US has counted their fingers after shaking on the deal and come up with less than five.
An attempt to coast to victory also puts your fate in other's hands - in this case it means relying on National's fumbling appendages to keep dropping the ball. Such a strategy might seem a reasonably safe bet in 2012, but another earthquake, a boatload of refugees, horrific crime or a Waitangi claim legal victory could easily be exploited to paint Labour as 'soft on [insert Paula Bennett's latest target here]'. Indeed, if the poll trends continue Labour should count on it.
The biggest threat to Shearer's Premier House dreams may be Winston Peters, whose party is holding their annual conference in Palmerston North this weekend - see: Peters wants more party members. With no deputy leader, or even parliamentary whip, the issue of leadership succession for NZ First is obviously far from being settled and clearly shows that Peters is looking for another run in government so that he can go out in style. Playing third fiddle to a Labour/Greens dominated government will be very unappealing compared to what a desperate National party might be willing to offer in 2014.
Card carrying National Party member Cameron Slater is looking to that party's future as well in a very practical way - see: Which National caucus members will still be in parliament in 2022 and What will the national party look like in 2022?. Slater is also giving free online advice to prospective National candidates about how to get selected even if the party HQ is against you. Also, Nick Smith looks likely to be recalled to broaden National's appeal to voters of a blue-green tinge says Chris Keall in Key will recall Nick Smith in bid for blue-green vote - pundit. And on the topic of John Key's eventual replacement, The Standard puts forward some useful analysis: The Nats' succession problem.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* Judith Collins is still in Andrew Little's sights over her involvement in ACC's police complaint - see: Little demands ACC answers and Patrick Gower reports that the ACC minister's recall is less than perfect - see: Collins' memory back over ACC police calls.
* Dire warnings about political fallout are being given by opposition parties - see: Adam Bennett's Assets sales 'going ahead' despite storm clouds.
* With the demise of TVNZ7, Russell Brown is celebrating that Media7 will soon be Media3.
* There is almost a political consensus now that there will eventually need to be major changes to National Superannuation. But, based on the latest analysis from the University of Auckland's Retirement Policy and Research Centre, the No Right Turn blog asks: What superannuation crisis?.
* While there's been a lot of self-congratulations going on during the celebrations of 25 years of New Zealand being nuclear-free, Gordon Campbell raises some inconvenient truths about New Zealand's real role in the global nuclear non-proliferation struggle - see his Wellingtonian column, Playing politics on the nuclear issue.