The election and scandal fatigue from 2014 is slowly wearing off, and both politicians and public are about to be confronted by another year of parliamentary politics.

This year is unlikely to be as bizarre - and will certainly be less busy - than the last. So what will be the main themes and issues?

Overall, it looks likely that economics and related economic-based issues will dominate the year. This is what we can expect all political parties to be orientated towards - especially the Labour Party. Under Andrew Little, the party's crucial rebuild is likely to be the main focus of the year, while the National Government simply attempts to govern without too much controversy.

A traditional, economic year

Following on from such a scandal-focused year, 2015 is almost certain to be characterised by more traditional concerns. Primarily these will include the economy and other other resource-based issues: unemployment and job growth, inequality, housing, the cost of living, and perhaps the Government's promised return to budget surplus.


As I explained in a four-minute interview this morning on TV3's Firstline, both parties are desperate to focus on such issues.

Both Andrew Little and John Key are giving their "state of the nation" speeches tomorrow, which are previewed by Vernon Small today in his article, Key talks housing while Little backs small business. See also, Gordon Campbell on tomorrow's speeches by John Key and Andrew Little.

Mr Little's speech is likely to be relentless in its focus on jobs and economic inequality. For good measure, and to show that Labour isn't veering into left-wing radicalism, there is likely to be a strong dash of small business in his speech too. This "jobs and inequality" focus is obviously an attempt to remake Mr Little's Labour Party into one in tune with the wider public, following on from a long period in which the party has been perceived to be a "social issues" party run by liberals.

As I explained in my Herald feature in December, A year of controversies that didn't matter, Mr Little needs "to thoroughly ditch the PC image of Labour. The party can't afford to continue to be associated with notions of the 'nanny state' and 'identity politics'. Such an abrupt shift won't be easy. Social liberals still dominate the party and will resist any attempt to remake it into a more traditional Labour Party".

This reorientation towards economics has also been spotted by Guyon Espiner in his recent Listener interview (paywalled) with Mr Little: "What Little is not saying is as important as what he is saying. He's talking almost exclusively about the economy. Social issues aren't getting a look in. MPs are being told to put away some of their pet projects for another day. Euthanasia is one. "As a policy I support it but it's not a priority now," Little says. MP Iain Lees-Galloway was to pick up the euthanasia bill but has been told to shelve it. "It's just not something we need to be taking our time with at the moment."

National has, mostly, been advantaged by the public's own focus on economic issues, which partly explains John Key's significant victory last year. But, National is still vulnerable on many economic issues, especially on inequality. So we can expect that National will put much effort into showing that it is dealing with child poverty, especially in this year's Budget.

As a Dominion Post editorial says this week, National might be able to deal adequately with the issue: "There will also be political clamour about child poverty, but whether this is a big problem for Key is doubtful. He will make some small changes - perhaps a bigger school lunch programme - and most of his followers will be content. Voters say they care about poverty, but it's doubtful if many Key followers would switch votes over it."

Mr Key's "state of the nation" speech is going to deal with the Government's contentious social housing programme, and perhaps housing affordability more generally. According to the National Business Review's Rob Hosking (paywalled), Mr Key is likely to attempt to sell the programme in the context of progressive devolution of social service provision by the NGO sector, much in the vein of the Whanau Ora programme.

Other economic-based issues that might dominate the year include the Resource Management Act reforms (as covered in my column Blue-Green battle over housing crisis and RMA), and the possible Trans-Pacific free trade deal, and perhaps even health, too.


The state of the economy will be closely watched - especially since National was re-elected on the basis of what it has promised to deliver. And recent fiscal improvements suggest that hopes of returning to surplus are still alive - see Vernon Small's Better Budget deficit renews Government surplus hopes. For a useful assessment of the various financial metrics, see Fiona Rotherham's feature, Do we really have a rockstar economy?

A vacuous and quiet year?

The signs, so far, are that this year will be rather politically colourless. The National Government is, according to Matthew Hooton, entering "its seventh year without a clear agenda". In his latest column (paywalled), Hooton admonishes National - and particularly Steven Joyce - as creating a government without any real vision or ambition: "Joyce avoids organising frameworks, let alone anything that might risk being seen as 1980s- or 1990s-style utopian visions to be foisted on the populace. Instead, even more than Helen Clark's, this government's efforts are focused on what works: to-do lists ... There is no longer even one big-picture policy move promised."

In an earlier column (paywalled), Hooton complains that "the lack of content in the government's programme has become glaring". He writes: "Lacking a sense of direction as it begins its third term, Mr Key's government is at risk of being swamped by the endless mini-scandals any decent opposition drums up."

Labour, too, seems to be learning from National's success, and is reportedly attempting to emulate the pragmatic vagueness. Hooton says that Labour is going to avoid creating policy, and instead leave such matters for government bureaucrats to do once Labour is in power. He says: "This is all bad news for those who believe politics should be a contest of ideas but the median voter model will always trump philosophers' noble theses."

This shift away from policy detail is also examined by Andrea Vance, who argues in her column that Labour needs to create a new identity: "Since defeat in 2008, the party has lost its way. The party grew frightened to articulate what it was and infighting over this identity crisis tore it apart. It appears Little's address will be a reminder of social democratic principles that were Labour's bedrock." She adds: "One must-do is overcoming the idea that it is a party of special interest groups."

Labour's rebuild will therefore be reliant on good spin doctors and organisers, both of which are reported on in Vernon Small's Andrew Little seeking positive coverage and Claire Trevett's Nominees announced for Labour Party presidency.

Making predictions for 2015

Making political forecasts is said to be "a mug's game", but nonetheless there are always a few willing to do so. The most interesting, so far, have been by the Fairfax journalists in Parliament, which you can read in David Farrar's post, Fairfax's 2015 predictions. Not only are they predicting the return of Judith Collins to Cabinet, and open warfare in the Greens, but also the retirement of Winston Peters.

Of course, the reliability of such predictions is open to question, and you can see how the same forecasters went with their previous predictions.

David Farrar makes his own forecasts, including that Labour will reach 30 per cent in at least one poll this year; there will be a by-election in 2015; and Jacinda Ardern will be made Labour's deputy leader.

Andrea Vance provides a list of rising stars, including Andrew Little, Todd McClay, Phil Twyford, James Shaw, Fletcher Tabateau, and Ron Mark. She also notes the potential for fun provided by curmudgeonly backbenchers, Judith Collins and Maurice Williamson.

And for a column providing less "honest forecast" and more "mischievous advice", see James Griffin's My 2015 to-do list by PM John Key.

Finally, when Andrew Little and John Key give their "state of the nation" speeches tomorrow, it will be interesting to see how many times they repeat key words. "Jobs", "inequality" and "housing" might be expecting to be repeated often. For an interesting look back on the changing use of words by John Key, see Charlie Mitchell's The language of John Key, akshually.