Cognito: National rejoyces

25 May 2017

Pacem in diebus nostris *

Steven Joyce’s first Budget is an interesting balancing act and clear indication of his party’s approach to the election.

Not quite a Budget of appeasement, but it does have something for everyone, promises more to come, and tries to address the huge expectation created by the first significant surplus in many years. Ironically, those most likely to be disappointed are some of National’s own.

Continuing the theme of the numerous pre-Budget announcements, the focus is on increasing income for those that need it most and acknowledging the pressures on housing, education, health, social spending and infrastructure.

What’s missing are across-the-board tax cuts and incentives for business that some may have hoped for as reward for the austerity of the ‘Zero Budgets’ of recent years.  The relief from adjusting thresholds is a direct tilt at the issues of inequality and poverty, which are high on the list of issues likely to feature during the election campaign.

More people currently believe the country is heading in the right direction than they did three years ago – also up since John Key was Prime Minister.

With three in five New Zealanders believing  the country is on the right track, and even more thinking the economy will improve, the opposition will have a hard time convincing swing voters it’s time for a change.

Labour and the Greens have a lot of ground to make up if they are to write next year’s Budget – and history is against them, as their support traditionally drops in the run-up to an election – and even many of Labour’s own supporters don’t believe they’re up to the job. 

The next few weeks will see the Government proudly selling its Budget and, more importantly, reminding people how good it is at running the economy.

The Lions Rugby tour gives little opportunity for campaigning, and politics is usually the last thing on many people’s minds during the school holidays that will follow it.

Parliament will resume for just one session after the school holidays before the House rises for a short, sharp campaign of just five weeks or so. That doesn’t give the Opposition a lot of time to change the electorate’s mood.

There’s no doubt – barring some catastrophic event – that National will be the highest-polling single party this year, and it’s likely that New Zealand First would pick up any disaffected National voters.

New Zealand First is the only party to consistently outperform the opinion polls, and the interesting question is whether Winston Peters can pick up enough support to hold the balance of power, or if the Māori Party can do well enough (at Labour’s expense) to make Winston Peters the political bridesmaid and give Bill English a chance of repeating his current coalition arrangement. 

* Peace in our time

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