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What Woes Wellingtonians, Boxing Bill or Economics

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What Woes Wellingtonians, Boxing Bill or Economic Strengths?

First published on…

By Paulo Politico

National Leader
Bill English plans to boxing himself to glory... By the way,
the image is manipulated J Wellingtonians are unlikely to be seduced by the sight of a sweaty Bill English getting punched around inside a boxing ring, Paulo Politico considers a TKO.

Wellington is an intensely political place. Wellingtonians love politics and harbour strong views about decisions that are made in the Beehive. So often the views Wellingtonians tend to be defined only after intense scrutiny of parliamentarians, from the Prime Minister right through.

Richard Prebble use to say that residents in Wellington Central are the smartest and most educated electors in the country. His detractors might suggest that they proved him right when Labour’s Marian Hobbs outpolled him by 1,482 votes, two and a half years ago.

But if Prebble’s view of Wellingtonians is correct, then the Evening Post- BRC business poll of 300 Wellington businesses, published on 6 May, is good news for Prime Minister Helen Clark and Finance Minister Michael Cullen.

Despite the difficult economic conditions experienced by countries overseas, Wellington business leaders remain remarkably upbeat about the economic climate in this country. An impressive 43 percent of respondents believe that trading conditions for their business will get better or much better over the next six months. Only 7 percent of respondents believe conditions will get worse or much worse.

That result is broadly consistent with the expected performance of the New Zealand economy overall. An impressive 38 percent of respondents expect the economy to improve or improve significantly. This compares to only 13 percent of respondents who expect the economy to deteriorate, with only 2 percent anticipating a significant deterioration.

How galling it must be for National leader Bill English to see the optimists outnumber pessimists by nearly three to one.

As the Wellington region contains one of the largest concentrations of voters, it must also alarm the opposition to see an overwhelming number of respondents who are upbeat about its long-term economic prospects. A stunning 79 percent are either optimistic or very optimistic about Wellington’s economic prospects, compared to a paltry 13 percent who are either pessimistic or very pessimistic. Once again optimists outnumber pessimists, this time by more than six to one.

The economic outlook for Wellington is good news for the government and for Prime Minister Helen Clark. Approval of Clark’s performance has increased to 69 percent. The number of respondents who are ‘very satisfied’ with her performance has nearly doubled, from 14 percent in February to 27 percent in April.

Satisfaction in Finance Minister Michael Cullen has also improved. His overall approval rating has increased from 42 percent in February to 49 percent in April. This result comes a month prior to Dr Cullen delivering his third Budget, which is likely to illustrate that, the main economic indicators (inflation, the current account, employment and government spending) point to a healthy and buoyant economy.

Labour’s bogey has always been the perception that it is a bad manager of the economy. Business has often led the charge that Labour is unfriendly to business and industry, and cannot preside over a growing economy. The BRC survey indicates that Labour is disavowing itself of the bogey that has cost it support in the past – 42 percent of respondents now regard the government as being business friendly.

Things don’t get better for National leader Bill English. While Clark achieves a satisfaction rate of 69 percent, English (a former Minister of Finance) can only manage a satisfaction rate of 24 percent. Dissatisfaction in English remains at a dangerously high 53 percent.

National may well take some comfort from the fact that Wellington’s business community appears to have some sympathy with National’s plan to privatise ACC, as well as lower income tax and corporate tax rates. But the party is offside with business on the issue of Industry New Zealand – the creation of Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton.

Business respondents overwhelmingly (78 percent) approve of Industry New Zealand giving help to businesses, industries and regions to foster growth and jobs. Respondents support the existence of Industry New Zealand by more than six to one.

The significance of this poll should not be discounted. Wellington is a diverse region. It boasts the extremes of wealth and poverty, younger and older New Zealanders. It contains a rural element, and is home to a large number of Maori, Pacific, and ethnic communities. Add in the Prebble observation that Wellingtonians are smart and thoughtful people, and the BRC survey results are a potential windfall for the government.

Over the past month the opposition has tried day after day to hammer the government with revelations and mini-scandals. The government has preferred to focus on regional development, improved health services, and initiatives such as improved vocational training for disabled people.

Helen Clark travelled to Indonesia to meet President Megawati Soekarnoputri. Her visit provided an opportunity to discuss the importance of economic development in the Asia-Pacific region. At the same time, Bill English, desperate for publicity, signed up to participate in a boxing match.

The contrast could not be more striking.

The BRC poll published in the Evening Post should not be taken out of context. It is only one survey. Only one community in one part of the country was invited to respond. The bad news for the opposition is that the respondents represented one of the most important stakeholder groups for the centre right – business people who are ambitious about economic growth and business development.

If those intelligent and cynical respondents are confident about the state of Wellington’s economy and the performance of the government, then Helen Clark has won another little battle in the lead up to the election.

Apart from Ohariu-Belmont, Labour holds every North Island electorate south in Rangitikei. National is restricted to chasing party votes only.

But if the business community, the last bastion of conservatism, is holding out for the re-election of Helen Clark’s government, then what are her opponents suppose to do?

Smart and educated Wellingtonians are unlikely to be seduced by the sight of a sweaty Bill English getting punched around inside a boxing ring.

Send your comments to:Spectator News Editor.
© Spectator News Agency, Multimedia Investments Limited, 2002.

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