John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Parties set agendas in lieu of election

36 comments
Setting the agenda and forcing Labour to talk about what National wants to talk about is one of the primary tasks of the Prime Minister's address today. Photo / NZ Herald
Setting the agenda and forcing Labour to talk about what National wants to talk about is one of the primary tasks of the Prime Minister's address today. Photo / NZ Herald

The political year is barely two days old if you take the first Cabinet meeting in January as the traditional start to proceedings.

Yet, 2014 has already witnessed a major positioning statement by John Key as to which political parties National is prepared to talk turkey with about governing arrangements post-election.

Video

In a "clearing-of-the-decks" exercise yesterday, his Opposition counterpart David Cunliffe announced or, more accurately, reannounced that Labour would be abandoning a tax-free zone on the first $5,000 in personal income, along with its planned exemption of fresh fruit and vegetables from GST.

The Prime Minister will today deliver a major state of the nation-style speech in West Auckland which will include a couple of announcements of new spending in the education portfolio. Next Monday, Labour's leader will deliver his take on the state of the nation.

The frenetic activity is all about National and Labour grappling with one another for the early election-year political initiative and - hopefully - retaining it. Or at least preventing the other party from doing so.

Setting the agenda and forcing Labour to talk about what National wants to talk about is one of the primary tasks of the Prime Minister's address today - just as Cunliffe will seek to do likewise on Monday ahead of next week's first sitting of Parliament in 2014.

Key has chosen education as the main focus of his speech because he believes elections are won and lost on how governments handle matters fundamental to people's daily lives, such as law and order and economic management.

Last year's disappointing PISA results showing that New Zealand school students' performance in reading, maths and science had slipped against some countries has left National vulnerable in a portfolio area where it had previously felt it held the advantage over Labour in terms of putting forward policies that parents wanted to see implemented but which did not square with Labour ideology.

National also needs to show it is just as fresh policy-wise as it was when it took office five years ago. Key's speech must counter Cunliffe's repeated refrain that the governing party has run out of ideas to lift living standards.

That is doubly important given mortgage-holders - a crucial voting bloc - are likely to be hit by Reserve Bank-driven hikes in interest rates this year.

Lastly, Key's speech needs to mount a convincing argument as to why a Labour-Greens coalition government would be unworkable. He needs to go beyond mere rhetoric and cite concrete examples of where the positions of the two supposed Opposition allies are irreconcilable.

Key yesterday seized on exploratory deep sea oil drilling as one such example. That issue has been ripe for National's picking for months.

The challenge for the Labour and Greens leaderships is to display much more sophisticated political management of the issues that divide the two parties, rather than scoring points off one another which is only to National's overall advantage.

- 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.

Read more by John Armstrong

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 21 Aug 2014 06:01:32 Processing Time: 481ms