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Lyndon Hood: The Race for the Sub-4-Minute U-Turn

Politicians Attempt the Sub-Four-Minute Policy Reversal

Who will be the first?

Lyndon Hood reports from trackside

Satire: Fans of electoral racing and mental gymnastics are on the edge of their seats as New Zealand's highest-profile political parties compete to achieve the elusive goal of announcing two totally contradictory policies within four minutes.

For most of the history of mankind the four minute barrier has been considered unbreakable. In fact, in theory, modern organisational and public relations techniques should make a short-term direct reversal virtually impossible.

But there is, it seems, no limit to the power of the human spirit.

With the National front bench displaying such skill in the one-day flip-flop and weeks of competition still to go, the four-minute barrier now seems likely to fall at any moment.

National's warm-up was in foreign policy, with subtly different and mutually incompatible positions flowing thick and fast on the nuclear free policy and the Iraq war.

The time-frame for its tax policy release has been revised so often, with such consummate skill, that it now seems incredible the announcement will happen at all. Four different spending commitments on transport were made in the course of the same day. The proposed petrol subsidy promised to care-workers was halved in a similar timeframe.

Don Brash abandons his bone-dry fiscal conservatism and John Key decides he does want to keep the Cullen fund after all: game on!

The National team is clearly ready for something big. Dr Brash's support crew have been forced to deny persistent rumours that he is on steroids.

Victory beckoned during TV3's leaders debate. Our Brashie seemed in good form - declaring, in contradiction to the policy on his party's website, that National did not want to sell any state assets. Yet, when challenged on this, he somehow failed to announce another entirely different policy, but instead explained that he wasn't contradicting himself at all. At the risk of using a cliché, it is fair say that Dr Brash choked at the last hurdle.

It still seemed that the field was clear for National. The best Labour could muster was a sudden embrace of Treaty settlement deadlines and the discovery of enough spare cash from that 'entirely spent' surplus to cancel student loan interest, a thing which had been considered, by Labour, to be inconceivable. Yet Labour's defence of these U-turns suggested that its squad was content to display their skill in the associated event of hair splitting, where star performer Michael Cullen shows a great deal of promise.

Then came a devastating and unexpected king hit. Having spent much of the morning explaining why tax cuts would overheat the economy and cause inflation, 'The Culler' went straight to a press conference and announced his brand-new family tax cut policy. In a move which earned him double points, he is paying for this with money he earlier said we don't have.

The Labour team's years of experience clearly has not been wasted. The sub-four-minute policy reversal seems within its reach.

So now, a nation holds its breath.

New Zealand is ready for leaders that know what they're' doing and have a clear programme. And when it comes to policy reversals, be they minor or earth-shatteringly huge, our plucky politicians are as skilful and committed as any in the world.

As training and preparation improve, it has become more and more clear that the four-minute barrier will fall, but the question that is gripping fans across the country is, who will be the one to break it?

Labour, historically considered a favorite, has shown that the old team has not lost its touch.

But with so much policy left to announce, the door is surely wide open for an in-form National to achieve that historically unequalled level of self-contradiction.

Questions remain. Have they peaked to soon? Many commentators expect National's policy to become increasingly coherent as the policy season draws to a close.

Time will tell.

The opinion of this commentator is that, having displayed such a singular determination to contradict themselves and each other on such a broad range of issues, National's 'Incompatible Crew' will - on this issue at least - be hard to beat.


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