John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Budget tailored to keep the wavering voters on board

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The Budget will stress that under Key's and Bill English's stewardship, New Zealand has come through the global financial crisis with little damage to the local economy. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Budget will stress that under Key's and Bill English's stewardship, New Zealand has come through the global financial crisis with little damage to the local economy. Photo / Mark Mitchell

John Key is under absolutely no illusions about the difficulty he faces in securing a third victory at next year's election.

The Prime Minister accepts that a swag of crucial middle-ground voters who ticked National in 2008 and 2011 will no longer be quite so enamoured with him or his colleagues by the time election day rolls around in 2014.

But as Key sees it, people do not have to like a party to vote for it. They may still vote for that party if they respect what it is doing.

Today's Budget has been tailored accordingly. Its job is to convince voters beyond doubt that despite National stumbling from one minor crisis to the next, the governing party is getting it right when it comes to the things that really matter. These include economic management, constructing new roads, welfare reform, national education standards and - as today's document will highlight - further measures to make first homes more affordable.

The Budget will stress that under Key's and Bill English's stewardship, New Zealand has come through the global financial crisis with little damage to the local economy. English will tentatively claim the economy is at last poised to really grow in more than tortoise-like fashion.

The document will flag a return to surplus by the long-established target date of June 2015.

The Treasury forecasts of revenue and spending on which meeting that target hinge are said to be far more credible than in preceding Budgets.

The sub-text of all this is to pose a simple question to voters: why would you change horses when the one you have been riding is delivering tangible results?

Two other factors make this year's Budget far more political than the normal steady-as-she-goes mid-term document which tends to be more of a holding operation so that there is money in the coffers in the following election year.

First, when it comes to spending on capital projects, English has the $1.7 billion proceeds from the float of Mighty River Power to play with. Some of that has been earmarked for a new $600 million public hospital in Christchurch. But English will still have a good chunk to distribute.

Second, Key and English have been hinting during the past week that the Budget will contain action on child poverty and other help for the poor.

This is classic Key. He is shutting down areas where National is vulnerable, while trying to silence Labour's claims that the Budget has been written solely for "Key's mates".

Doing something for those at the bottom of the heap is also an antidote to perceptions that when National is not selling something like Mighty River Power, it is busy selling out to the likes of SkyCity.

In that regard, today's Budget is all about softening National's image to hold on to the "soft" vote whose attachment to that party is weak.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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