National has enjoyed amazing polls, partly attributable to the mishmash of Opposition parties' gaffes and misfortunes. And to the extent our system is increasingly presidential, the Government is blessed with the most popular leader in New Zealand history, this set against the two main Opposition parties' respective leaders' decided unpopularity.
I'm treating Russel Norman as the de facto Greens leader, his nominal co-leader simply ticking two typically Greens imagery boxes, being female and Maori. Nevertheless, gaining a third term will be tough, a point I made in this column two years ago and echoed by Bill English a week ago. Under the old first-past-the-post system National would romp home, but MMP neutralises such clear-cut outcomes.
We're now witnessing an age-old media phenomenon. Bored with irrelevant sideshows such as Dotcom and the Conservatives, the media are turning on the Government by grabbing at mishaps and exaggerating their significance. This is worldwide behaviour, not just with politics but sport, literature or whatever, namely to over-cook building someone up, then packhunt them down, often over trivia.
In fairness, this isn't so much media but human behaviour, which is why John Key's run is so remarkable. Is this the end for National some commentators wrote, forgetting they'd written the same a week earlier, only about Labour following Shane Jones' departure. But talk about molehills and mountains, upholding its recent years' practice of farcical front pages, last Monday's Dominion Post's lead story took the cake.
With no byline - its author presumably too ashamed to put his or her name to it - it began: "Pressure is mounting on embattled Justice Minister Judith Collins to resign after she lashed out at a political journalist ..."
Now I'm the last person to go to bat for the minister - indeed, I have serious reservations not about her competence but her suitability for the justice portfolio - but this was preposterous. What had she done to justify a front-page "Pressure is mounting to resign" line? Strangled a budgie, pranced naked down Queen St at midday, shouting obscenities and hurling beer bottles through shop windows? We'd pay good money to witness that, but alas no.
Fed up with repetitive pestering by journalists over the China breach of protocol, which I don't make light of but it's been done to death, she reminded one tormentor that she once asked her for her advice. It was a perfectly proper request from the reporter's perspective and the minister subsequently apologised for mentioning it. But it was also trivial in the extreme, hardly justifying the "resignation, "lashing out" Dominion Post's excesses. The following day one of its proper political journalists, Andrea Vance, referred more accurately to this incident as "raising eyebrows".
It recalled journalist Colin James, writing after a 1981 Muldoon press conference, "... the familiar intemperance was waxing again ... the volcano emitting the odd belch of smoke and ash." This after someone asked a nonsense question and Muldoon, who never raised his voice, had mildly responded, "Oh come on, don't be silly," whereupon the discussion had moved on to other matters. Muldoon was demonised by the media because he challenged their mistakes. It was his nature not to turn the other cheek, and not doing so is part of Key's success for, as he said last week, he's irked by journalists' errors but lets them pass, aware they're quickly forgotten.
The uncritical way the media have treated Labour's ridiculous monetary policy proposal reflects its mood change. Despite its alluring symmetry, the concept is naive in the extreme. David Parker should be asked exactly what should the exchange rate be? That would be fun. Let us assume he succeeded in lowering the exchange rate drastically, for if not drastically, then why bother?
The effect: happy farmers and exporters (that is until they wanted to buy a new tractor, car and other spending), a reduced income for all houseowners other than the minority with floating-rate mortgages who stay neutral, and the return of inflation as virtually everything and not just imported goods leaps in cost. Ergo: back to the days of wage-costs cyclical increases and an end to stability.
But here's the irony. For Labour to get up this year, they acknowledge they must capture the 30 per cent non-voting sector comprising mainly low-income people. Reducing their already tight incomes and adding to their consumption cost is an odd way to achieve that.
Of the multitude of topics that attract nutty conspiracy theorists, few are more popular than monetary reform. It's a throwback to Labour's history to be seduced by the notion of great riches through fiddling with monetary policy and partly caused the John A. Lee rift in the 1930s when a faction of Labour MPs sought to embrace Social Credit ideas, and again with Norman Kirk, who had MP Gerald O'Brien investigate the concept.
Its reappearance is a sign of desperation; nevertheless, it's why I enjoy Labour MPs' company for they love tossing about radical ideas, even if they are sometimes harebrained.