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Herald on Sunday editorial: Time off a chance to take stock

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David Cunliffe. Photo / APN
David Cunliffe. Photo / APN

It would be a rare person who ended a year with no regrets. The trick of it is to resist the temptation to dwell on them.

There's no denying that 2013 was a year in which plenty of people in the public eye had much to regret, and we will not be reminding them of it here. The seasonal spirit demands a recess.

For many, the time between Christmas and the first full week in January is a blessed quiet zone. The cares and stresses of the rest of the year can be parked and the harried and sometimes grubby business of national life can take a nap.

It is not paradoxical to add that lying on a beach or waiting on the end of a line for a fish to bite is a good vantage point from which to consider the year ahead. If distance does not always lend enchantment to the view it often lends perspective.

And there is no denying that election year 2014 will be one in which a sense of perspective will come in very handy. The political landscape is shifting.

At this stage, barely 11 months out from the traditional November election date the shifts are more in the nature of premonitory rumbles than full-scale quakes but it is shaping up to be a watershed year.

John Key's personal popularity still easily tops 60 per cent and Labour leader David Cunliffe has made only a small dent in that; likewise National's party-vote numbers have dipped only slightly. But MMP politics is a numbers game in which small shifts can have big implications.

When the political joke that was John Banks fell flat and United Future leader Peter Dunne resigned his ministerial warrant without apparently knowing why he was doing so, the first of those premonitory rumbles could be plainly heard. The National-led Government has survived on the votes of one or other of these two one-man bands: Banks has now gone and taken his party down the plughole with him and Dunne's hold on his electorate seat cannot be regarded as secure.

Across the floor of the House, a resurgent Green Party is polling the numbers to make a Labour-Green coalition look every bit as viable as a National-led team that has no one to reach an accommodation with. And the apparently indestructible Winston Peters may be kingmaker again.

If Cunliffe's impact on Labour's numbers has been only moderate, it has been important. National's Gerry Brownlee derided the Labour victory in the Christchurch East byelection ("What's [Cunliffe] saying?" he asked. "Whoop-de-do, we've won a seat we've held since 1922.") but it was an important fillip for the newly installed Labour leader.

What Cunliffe will be seeking this year is to capitalise on the sense rolling through the country that the National-led administration is arrogant and indifferent to the beliefs and needs of ordinary New Zealanders. But what he and the rest of us need to keep front of mind is the plight of those who cannot even aspire to ordinariness.

The Child Poverty Monitor report, released three weeks ago by Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, shows that a quarter of our children are living in poverty, some of it severe and persistent. Poverty-related illness, such as asthma and bronchitis, reached record highs.

With every passing year, it becomes harder to be proud of a country that was once a world-leading social democracy. The small Scandinavian countries we used to rub shoulders with at the top of the league tables have maintained their positions as we have plummeted.

It is not about resources, but about political will. It's something that politicians and voters should devote thought to as another year dawns.

- Herald on Sunday

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