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Voters let down by Key? Let me count the ways

Posted by on October 24th, 2012

There is a political maxim that only one poll really matters, and that is the one taken on election day.  Sometimes, however, one is able to divine wisdom from polling trends at other times.

The veracity of individual polling methods is hotly debated.  But what seems to be emerging as fact is that – taken as a whole – polls since the election paint a clear picture of National in decline and Labour on the rise.

What was around a 20 point gap between the two main parties on election day is now reduced to 10 points in most polls.

David Shearer’s leadership on economic sovereignty, education and employment are clearly being seen as the stuff of credible alternative government.  At the same time the Government of the day is shooting itself in the foot faster than opposition members can fire off their own rounds at them.

Key already sat uncomfortably with many New Zealanders before the election.  His broken promise not to raise GST and the growing gap between rich and poor were unwelcome. His proposal to sell assets was (mistakenly) thought negotiable by some of his supporters.  But until the 2011 election, Key appeared comfortable riding a (smile and) wave of popularity. The tea-pot tapes saga was the first real sign of wide-spread discontent, and it simultaneously signalled that Key was uncomfortable taking decisions under the glare of more thorough media scrutiny.

Key’s majority in the House has always been slender this term.  The vote on my Mondayising Bill is illustration of that, as was the vote on paid parental leave.  If further illustration is required, recall that more New Zealanders voted last year for parties that opposed asset sales than parties that supported asset sales.  The Government Key cobbled together was based on uncomfortable compromises.

And ever since the election, the Government has embroiled itself in scandals. I think the number and consistency of scandals is the main reason the public at large is turning off Key.  Let’s recall some of the major ones:

– ACC letter of support written by Minister with a conflict of interest (prompting Nick Smith’s resignation)

– ACC privacy breach where emails with sensitive client data was sent out to Bronwyn Pullar

– A Sky City deal that appears to have been done outside the rules that are designed to prevent corruption. An inquiry is currently underway that will examine the integrity of the Prime Minister’s actions, and whether proper process was followed.

– Hekia Parata’s announcement that increased class-sizes were the way to quality education.  The effects of the back-down on Hekia’s relationship with her caucus colleagues has been more dramatic than the colour coding on name-badges that signalled to Canterbury School Principals that she thinks their schools should be for the chop.

– John Banks ‘anonymous’ donations scandals – the start of the Dotcom fiasco.  Police said Banks filed a false declaration but that it’s too late by law to prosecute him.  Banks also forgot a helicopter ride to the Dotcom mansion to propose a toast at a celebration.  He also denied that he had received discounted accommodation (a gift he failed to register on his parliamentary pecuniary interests register) but was later forced to admit he had.  John Key has bizarrely refused to read the police report. He hasn’t yet disciplined Banks, despite claiming that his Ministers would be required to hold to a higher ethical standard.

– The Dotcom fiasco is ongoing.  John Key has admitted the agency he is responsible for (GCSB) spied on Kim Dotcom illegally.  He also failed to remember that he was briefed on Dotcom months before the issue came to public attention, forcing an embarrassing backdown.

– MSD privacy breaches.  Kiosks with public access contained private information of the most sensitive kind – including information on our most vulnerable children in state care, their health conditions, locations and other personal information.

But it is not just these scandals that are embarrassing.  Earlier behaviour is now shaping into a pattern.  Turnarounds on Kiwisaver (introducing legislation to lower contributions, and then later introducing legislation to increase them again) and Working For Families (communism by stealth, or appropriate incentives for work?)  Anyone remember John Key’s ’embarrassing uncle’ speech at the launch of the Rugby World Cup, or the three-way handshake at the end? Or the Government promise that no property-owner would be worse off in Canterbury?  More recently John Key’s embarrassing brain-fade about how he voted on the alcohol age a few weeks before.

I haven’t mentioned the lack of action around outdated IRD computer systems that Key said in February can’t support changes from Government, or perserverance with asset sales legislation that is looking more and more expensive for the taxpayer over time.  Nor have I compared Key’s claim he’d stem the tide of Kiwis moving to Oz to pursue better opportunities with evidence people are now moving there in record numbers.   But despite these omissions, it’s not surprising that those who say they supported Key in the last election are today saying they are disappointed with the Government.

Key will be looking forward to throwing in the towel. Richard Worth, Pansy Wong and Phil Heatly all had to step down last term, but this term the casualties are mounting faster. He’s already said he’ll resign if National are thrown out of Government.  Pressure may mount for him to stand aside sooner.

So how about the issues that really matter?  Labour has clear positions on education, jobs, procurement, monetary policy to support exporters, pro-growth tax reform, and savings. The Key-Government is rapidly earning a reputation as a party distracted and not prepared to take the big decisions that a Shearer-led Labour Government would.

It’s no wonder the polling suggests voters are turning off Key faster than ever.