Bill Ralston: Honeymoon's still not over

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Six months ago Labour was constantly telling us that John Key was weak, untrustworthy and devious, while his National Party was little more than a bunch of washed-up hacks, bereft of ideas and vision. "Slippery John". "It's all about trust". Those were Labour's chants.

It was a strategy aimed at destroying Key's credibility and it almost worked but, despite their suspicions, enough voters closed their eyes, crossed their fingers and put their ticks on the ballot paper for National.

Having now discovered those fears were groundless we seem to be giving National the longest honeymoon any government has enjoyed.

The latest 3 News poll shows National sitting on 60 per cent support, the highest figure ever recorded in that poll and, I suspect, any other survey. Even more remarkable is that TV3's poll usually skews favourably to Labour. In this one, the Opposition could only muster a withered 27 per cent support.

Now here is the really weird thing. Even people who don't back National approve of how it is handling the country. Sixty per cent of people might say they would vote National but 64 per cent say its performance has been strong or very strong. Only 4 per cent of those polled could claim the Government has been weak.

It doesn't get much better than that. Well, for John Key it does. The poll showed 52 per cent of people preferred him as Prime Minister but a massive 85 per cent conceded him a capable leader. Seventy-five per cent thought he would be good in a crisis (and, in case it's escaped your notice, we are in a crisis) while 77 per cent backed his judgment.

If Key rates a point or two higher in the next poll the Vatican is likely to beatify him.

This surge in goodwill is driven by three things. The first is sheer relief. Relief that, despite Labour's Chicken Little predictions, the sky did not fall when National came to power.

The second is that Key appears to be the ideal personification of the Government he leads. Yes, he can be a bit goofy at times.

If you don't believe me check out the shot of him dancing with two transvestites at the Big Gay Out. That is definitely goofy. But if Helen Clark was cold and aloof, Key seems warm, natural and approachable.

Of course he mangles his vowels and commits the occasional grammatical atrocity but, then, so does the rest of New Zuland. Put simply, he makes it hard to disapprove of him.

Probably the biggest factor in the rise of National since the election has been the appearance that it is actually doing something. The 100-Day plan has worked, at least in PR terms.

To be honest the fiscal stimulus package relies on smoke and mirrors, largely accelerating infrastructural investment that was otherwise further down the pipeline and tax cuts that were long promised and always on the way eventually. However, it has helped boost morale as we slide down the slope of this recession.

Daily we see news stories detailing some minister taking strong action on some problem that has long affected the country.

Amazingly, most of these actions are based on National's election promises and they are being fulfilled. Even if you don't agree with them all, it is somehow reassuring to see them doing what they promised to do.

Slowly all these decisions will impact on us and, in many cases, the impact will be positive and National will reap further benefit from that.

Take, for example, Nick Smith's revamping of the unbelievably bureaucratic Resource Management Act. Before Christmas I decided to get rid of an ugly, stunted, exotic box elder tree at the bottom of my garden that was strangling a native nikau and a couple of other palm trees.

The guy who does our garden brought around an arborist who told me he could not fell the damn thing without a resource consent. I wrote a cheque and several weeks later a man from the Auckland City Council with a clipboard came around and stared long and hard at the offending tree.

Yes, he would recommend we could cut it down. More weeks passed and eventually a long document arrived from the Regulatory Planning Department of Auckland City Environments saying we had been granted consent.

The tree feller came, cut it down and removed it in 30 minutes.

Thanks to Nick Smith, once his changes to the RMA go through, I will never again have to apply for a Resource Consent to trim my garden, the council will not have to spend many hours pondering my botanical behaviour and the ratepayers of Auckland will not be wasting hundreds of dollars every time someone in this city wants to do some gardening.

Of course, sooner or later, National will put a foot wrong and the tide of public opinion will turn but, sadly for Phil Goff, there is no sign of that happening any time soon.

- Herald on Sunday

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