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Gordon Campbell: On the government’s lead in the polls

Gordon Campbell on the government’s lead in the polls, and Labour’s response

Now that National have gained – according to the latest TV3 poll anyway – a further huge lead in the polls, it is timely that Net parodists should be considering the unheard talent on the government’s backbenches that could be unleashed during National’s second term.

Such as list MP Katrina Shanks. Check out the body language and content on this Shanks speech about social welfare from last year and be afraid, be very afraid. Or be very confused, as Shanks clearly seemed to be in this (slightly adulterated) contribution to the debate on copyright legislation, when – even though she was a member of the select committee on the subject – she clearly doesn’t have a clue what file sharing is, or the difference between file sharing and copyright infringement. Much less does she have a grip on the contrasting views about the scope that copyright can and should have in the 21st century.

If you think Shanks has been unfairly edited, the original speeches here and here are just as dismaying. Or weirdly fascinating, depending on taste.

Competence, of course, is not what is keeping National aloft in the polls. Not when its policy options consist of plans for cutting employment (thus adding to the 160,000 already out of work) and slashing state spending, without having any recipe for actually growing the economy. Nor is integrity the basis of its current popularity, as witness the detailed OIA revelations ten days ago by No Right Turn about Steven Joyce’s arrangement of a soft $43 million loan to his old firm, Mediaworks.

Nor are its poll ratings due to National offering the nation a sense of safety, and security. Does anyone seriously think that Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee is a safe pair of hands, who should be entrusted with five years of unlimited power to crush any dissent over his plans for the re-development of Christchurch? Only last month, Brownlee was saying that if it was up to him, he would bowl most of the heritage buildings in Christchurch tomorrow, because they had failed the public and cost lives – a claim that blithely ignored the fact that the vast bulk of casualties occurred in the relatively modern CTV and Pyne Gould buildings, and that major modern edifices like the Forsythe Barr, BOD Spicer, Copthorne and Grand Chancellor Hotel buildings, also failed during the quake.

If the response to the Christchurch quakes is really going to be the litmus test of this government’s competence – as the Herald’s John Armstrong was suggesting in February – then why give the prime public job in Christchurch to Brownlee, the loosest of cannons among the government’s senior Ministers? It will take the appointment of Orion boss Roger Sutton as CERA’s CEO to allay the lingering concerns about Brownlee’s potential abuse of the CERA legislation.

Yes, the alternative personified by Phil Goff –and the diversions created by Darren Hughes and Damien O’Connor in recent weeks – continue to make the government’s road a whole lot easier. During the same period, Finance spokesperson David Cunliffe has finally started to sound like a potential leader of the Opposition, which hasn’t helped Goff in the short term either. Even so, National is still getting an armchair ride – if Joyce’s machinations had been those of a Labour Cabinet Minister, the mainstream media would have made a meal of it, and hounded him to resignation. Instead, there has barely been a sign of the controversy outside of the blogosphere.

As the election draws closer, voters are going to have to decide whether this barely functional government of depressingly low expectations is the best they can hope for. At yesterday’s post Cabinet press conference, John Key patently could not maintain the line that people have been adequately compensated for rising prices, via the tax cuts. The reality is that only those on relatively high incomes have kept their heads above water, as the chart at the foot of this release maintains, and there is further ammunition here.

The inability of Labour or the Greens to get traction on rising prices, chronic unemployment levels and the government’s lack of an economic growth policy is not, as some on the left are suggesting, a good reason to throw in the towel. Labour will hardly win a “me, too” campaign based on imitation – not when there is such a perceived charm deficit between Goff and Key.

The current state of acceptance is not due to any deeply grounded enthusiasm for the government’s policy settings, but to a lack of energy and faith in any alternative. We are a deeply depressed country. Our expectations have been reduced, and we are being offered only the Prozac of Key’s photo ops for relief. This is not a sustainable condition, and when people finally turn on Key, Joyce and Co. it will be essential for Labour and the Greens to have had a credible therapy on hand all along, unpopular though it may seem right now.

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