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Political slate / Year ended 2012

2012 was the worst political year ever for most MPs in the National Government. Riding a three year honeymoon on the back of the popularity of amiable John Key, the negativity of 2012 was a shock.

They were visibly frustrated and annoyed that everything that happened was perceived in a negative frame. We predicted this in December last year, after a bumpy election campaign and likelihood of an extended recession. It’s the proverbial slippery pole of politics at its predictable best. Yet the change always catches Governments by surprise.

Let’s pause to consider the array of things gone “wrong”;

  1. the linchpin of National’s economic programme, partial asset share sales, is held up by disputes with Maori;
  2. tax revenue falls with low economic activity so budgeted surplus plans have to change;
  3. Ministers resign over ACC privacy breach and a report on responsibility for the Pike River disaster;
  4. the golden girl Minister, Hekia Parata, aborts a plan to increase class sizes, surprises Christchurch parents with a major plan to close, merge and build schools there, doesn't engage over months of teacher pay system failures, and loses many staff – finishing with the resignation of new and imported head of her Ministry;
  5. MSD leaves open a sizable part of its IT system via public WINZ terminals;
  6. the PM shucks off myopic critique over his stance on John Banks being funded by Kim Dotcom, and then has to duck and dive over his knowledge of the unlawful actions of the GCSB toward Dotcom;
  7. the Government rejects advice it commissioned on compensation for David Bain.

It’s fascinating to reflect how Key’s style has worked so well for so long. In politics, as in life, a smile, confidence, and amiability take you an awfully long way. The downsides of these traits have been evident as people seek more precision and gravitas in response to the sorts of problems listed above. Colin James has rightly noted that under Key’s jokey demeanor also exists a very “executive” Prime Minister – a man able to step in and sort out problems with an astute sense of the appropriate action.  

But it’s getting tougher for him with this new negative frame of viewing this Government. His popularity is slipping gradually. The negative frame will NOT go away. National now needs to work over the next two years with an expectation of a diminishing level of public support.

Some Ministers, like Bill English and Tony Ryall, have been through tough times before. Their level heads will be invaluable. Some Ministers, like Steven Joyce, don’t take negativity as an acceptable answer, and they will keep National working at new projects over the next two years.

There’s nothing positive to say about Labour from 2012. Self-obsession and overly-nuanced ideological disputes have again made the Party its own worst enemy. The Greens have out-performed Labour simply because its members and MPs have a simple prescription; they know what they want. It’s incredible to consider that as the nation shifts to marginally to the left again, both these Parties could form the next Government. The Greens could make up as much as a third of the administration.

One of our PR principles is to befriend people when they are down. It’s the decent thing to do, and it pays off later. All political parties, even in Government, will feel that things are against them right now. So our recommendation is that businesses spend equal amounts of time across the political spectrum in 2013.    

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