Liam Dann 's Opinion

Liam Dann is the business editor of the NZ Herald

Liam Dann: National needs to dish up comfort

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After spicy political scandal, this will be the Cheese-on-Toast Budget - cheap, satisfying and nothing too fancy.

Cheese on toast - doesn't overpromise and always delivers. Photo / Thinkstock
Cheese on toast - doesn't overpromise and always delivers. Photo / Thinkstock

I'm calling the 2014 Budget early. It will be the Cheese-on-Toast Budget.

At least, that's what John Key and Bill English need it to be.

Cheese on toast: comfort food - cheap, uncomplicated but satisfying and hard to argue with. It doesn't overpromise and always delivers.

With so much spicy political scandal doing the rounds in the last few weeks National desperately needs to bring the focus of the electorate back to a heartier menu.

All the ingredients are sitting right there for them - they are economic. And if you want a chef who doesn't go in for fancy muck but won't burn the cheese, then Bill English is your man.

There may be a little fresh spending but it will be spread thinly like a smear of Marmite.

It isn't likely to wow anyone with culinary flair and it shouldn't try to.

This is a Budget that needs to be familiar and reassuring. National will be banking on English reminding middle New Zealand that we've survived the GFC in good shape and have strong signs of solid recovery under way.

That's been the dominant feeling of the electorate for some time and has been reflected in National's high polling.

Now, thanks to meltdowns by Maurice Williamson and Judith Collins, the distraction of political incompetency has reared its head and threatens to derail things for National.

The Budget represents the best chance that the Government has had for weeks to get the political narrative back on to the economic recovery.

The trick will be to do enough to grab the public's attention without resorting to policy that looks panicked.

Budget 2014 preview - Deloitte NZ chief executive Thomas Pippos:

Video


Since taking control of the accounts at the height of the financial crisis English has run a calm, steady-as-she-goes strategy. He didn't panic when the financial world was collapsing around him and it seems unlikely he will now.

On Thursday his job will be to provide a healthy dose of boring and sensible but with a stern reminder of what is still at stake for the New Zealand economy.

It's not so much a case of "you've never had it so good" as a case of "we never had it as bad as it might have been".

We've survived the crisis and are through the downturn. The recovery has only just begun and without carefully managing this part of the cycle all the work of the past six years could be for nothing.

Word out of Wellington is that even some of the traditionally left-leaning bureaucracy feel they are only halfway through an important job.

The appetite for wholesale change just isn't there.

Yet still the embarrassment of the past few weeks has been serious for National.

John Key has faltered, failed to act decisively, and allowed the narrative to shift in the Opposition's favour.

The race suddenly seems competitive and if the public shifts its perceptions, to prepare for the possibility of a new Government later this year, then Key has problems.

His magic spell over the electorate will be broken and David Cunliffe may even start to look Prime Ministerial.

So politically, the stakes have never been higher for a Bill English Budget.

No one expects flashy, but his presentation and delivery will need to be perfectly executed. This may just be the moment when the nation decides whether it is still comfortable with another three years of National.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Liam Dann

Liam Dann is the business editor of the NZ Herald

Liam Dann is the Business editor of the New Zealand Herald, overseeing all our business content in print and online. He has been a journalist for 20 years, covering business for the last 14 of them. He has also worked in the banking sector in London and travelled extensively. His passion is for Markets and Economics, because they are the engine of the New Zealand economy.

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