Fronting Up To Mediocrity
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Fronting Up To
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National's 'Fronting Up' tour will get its
leader Bill English out of Wellington - albeit bruised and
battered. But will it claw back a few votes for the tories?
Paulo Politico doubts it.
Earlier this year Bill English
told a National Party regional conference that he felt like
reaching for a bucket every time he heard comments about
Helen Clark being New Zealand’s greatest modern Prime
For English, who trails Clark by a huge
margin in all public opinion polls, the thought of the Prime
Minister gaining in popularity the longer she remains in
office may well be sick making. But English’s anger and
frustration is politically motivated.
National has become an increasingly lazy and trivial force
in New Zealand politics. Its front bench is the weakest
and most ineffective line up the party has produced in over
20 years. Many voters remain unconvinced about English, and
view party president Michelle Boag as the real Leader of the
But English’s problems are only partly of
his own creation. There is no doubt that National sits in
opposition to a government that is truly popular.
Labour can boast an impressive record of achievement
in office. It has made good on all of its pledge card
promises. It promised to promote job creation by working in
partnership with private enterprise. Unemployment has
fallen to a 13-year low, and over 100,000 new jobs have been
created now compared to when Labour came to office in
The party promised to focus on patients not
profits in the public health system. National’s
profit-driven model of health care service provision was
quickly scrapped. More money was directed towards paying
for elective surgery. This year’s Budget includes hundreds
of millions of dollars to invest in hospitals, increased
subsidies for doctor’s visits, and money to develop a
vaccine to combat Group B meningococcal
Labour promised to make tertiary education
more affordable. Tertiary students are among the most
cynical voters in New Zealand. After all, National was
elected on a promise in 1990 to abolish tertiary fees. By
the time it left office in 1999, tertiary fees had increased
by 280 percent as National systematically cut the
per-student tertiary subsidy.
Labour in government has
invested around a billion dollars to reverse the trend
towards high fees and a mountain of student debt. The
Clark-led government has frozen fees and written off
millions of dollars in interest charged on student loans.
The average student is nearly $2,000 a year better off now
than they were three years ago.
Labour promised to
reverse National’s cuts to superannuation, and set money
aside to help offset the future cost of superannuation.
National’s cuts were reversed soon after the Labour-Alliance
government came to office, and money is being set aside in
the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to pre-fund
superannuation in the future.
State house tenants were
promised that a Labour government would introduce
income-related rents by the end of its first term in office.
Labour did better than that. Income-related rents were
introduced by the end of Labour’s first year in office.
This has meant low-income state tenants have more money to
spend on healthy food, decent clothes and prescription
Labour promised to crack down on burglary
and youth crime. Burglary has fallen to a 20-year low and
the police budget has been significantly increased.
National’s much criticised police review, designed to cut
445 police jobs, was scrapped and Justice Minister Phil Goff
has announced details of a youth offending package designed
to target serious young offenders.
Prior to the last
election Labour campaigned on a promise to raise the top
marginal income tax rate from 33 cents to 39 cents in every
dollar earned over $60,000 a year - affecting about 5
percent of all income earners. The party also promised not
to increase GST or company tax.
Labour campaigned on
a promise to increase tax - and it won. Now Michael Cullen
can say he kept his promise on tax, and the sky did not fall
in. And if more people are paying more income tax it is
because more people are enjoying bigger wage and salary
National is up against a government that
has kept its word. And it is up against a Prime Minister
who is both popular and well respected.
is both an accessible Prime Minister and a humble Prime
Minister. She has met with world leaders such as George. W.
Bush, Tony Blair, and Indonesian President Megawati
Sukarnoputri. Yet she goes out of her way to attend hui,
visits schools and factories, and lend her support to worthy
causes such as Project K and the Kakapo Recovery Programme.
This week Bill English is going to try and jump-start
the National Party with a road show tour ironically titled
‘Fronting Up’. He will spend time in the South Island
visiting Dunedin, Oamaru and Timaru.
National has no chance of gaining an additional seat in the
South Island. Both Dunedin seats are firmly in Labour’s
camp. Timaru is in the Aoraki electorate, held by Labour’s
Jim Sutton by over 7,000 votes. Oamaru is in marginal
Otago, where National’s Gavin Herlihy is defending a 7
percent buffer over Labour’s David Parker.
‘Fronting Up’ road show could just as easily be called the
‘Up Against It’ road show in the three South Island
locations that English has chosen to visit. Dunedin’s
students are much better off now compared to three years
ago. Dunedin’s pensioners are enjoying increased pensions,
courtesy of the Clark-led Labour government.
residents are benefiting from strong economic growth and low
unemployment. Indeed this year Otago voters may well decide
that they are better off under Labour than they are under
National. For example residents in the Otago town of
Alexandra know that the Clark-led government announced a $21
million flood protection package to protect the town from
future flooding from the Clutha River. In contrast the
previous National government knew about flood risk affecting
the town - but did nothing about it.
arrives in Timaru he will find a town energized by the
benefits of economic growth and employment growth.
According to the latest National Bank survey of regional
economic trends, the Canterbury region recorded the second
largest rise in employment growth during the March quarter.
As well, the local MP is the well respected Trade Minister
(and local farmer) Jim Sutton, whose work promoting trade
liberalisation abroad has contributed to economic growth and
prosperity at home.
What will Bill English tell the
elderly at the Grey Power meetings in Oamaru and Timaru?
Will he explain why he cut superannuation when National was
last in government? Will he explain why National would
redirect money, currently set aside for superannuation, to
help pay for tax cuts? Will he outline National’s policy of
asset testing elderly New Zealanders who need rest home
The ‘Fronting Up’ tour might get English out of
Wellington. But it is unlikely to move a single extra vote
across from Labour to National.
Spectator News Editor.
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