John Key announces his biggest trump card – himself.

John Key has just announced a possible election date for this year.  He also took the time to announce that he would resign if National loses the election. Key is a canny politician, he realises, as do a number of National Party officials and their members of Parliament, that He and not the National Party is actually the Government’s greatest asset. It has been Key apparently easy going charm and earthy approach that has befriended him to hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders, who would otherwise be deserting the Government in droves.

This has been the secret to Key’s success, the ability to be able to distance himself from the Government, but yet, at the same time be identified with the Government, so that his success is also transferred to them. This is despite a number of unpalatable policy decisions that they have made and will continue to make in the coming months.

Of course, Key’s road has been made smoother by the disarray in the Opposition. Labour truly is a party that is not fit to govern. Unlike Key, Goff exhibits no real warmth or apparent sincerity. Last year saw the Party and Goff flip-flopping over policy and the end of 2010 saw Goff trying to explain the oddities of his rental accommodation in Wellington. This is something Labour could have done without.

Of course, this policy failure is a long time coming and is the logical outcome of a Party that has been wandering ideologically directionless for a considerable period of time. And that is Labour’s real problem. Simply, Labour is a party without direction. It completely destroyed the social democratic consensus that the first Labour Government established, effectively wiping out its own ideological background and then adopted a conservative version of the third way programme. The third way itself has now been disowned by its own creators, the British Labour Party – leaving those Labour Parties who adopted it with nothing. In essence, the Labour Party has become a modern version of the early 20th Century Liberals, a party that seeks to do good for the poor, but is also committed to restrictive and conservative fiscal policies, which work against those actions.

The real danger then for National and Key is not that it will become the largest Party in the House, but that it might not have any potential coalition partners when it does. I cannot see National getting 51% of the vote, something that a major party has not achieved since 1951, but I can see it getting 44 – 48 % of the vote and then having to do deal with whom? It is entirely possible that in such a situation, I could plausibly see Key and National entering into negotiations with Parties like the Greens. And, considering the actions of the Greens in the past several years, there is a distinct possibility the Greens would react positively to such overtures. Of course, there are also the wild outside cards such as Winston First which could make a comeback. If anyone can rise from the political dead, it is Winston Peters.

National’s current crop of coalition partners (aside from ACT) will more than likely remain in Parliament, although it will be interesting to see whether the Maori Party remains as a distinct whole entity.

The other danger for National is what happens once Key goes. Having a leader like Key who is wildly popular is a blessing and curse – when he is up, you are up, and when he comes down…well…then you have problems. Tony Blair and Kevin Rudd are good indicators of what happens when the ‘sheen’ finally wears off. National must be hoping that they do not need to cross this Rubicon until sometime in the future. The problem is that the future has an awful habit of appearing.


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