Brand-leader or brand-party: a 2010s challenge

Labour goes into its conference on November 1 with its fourth leader in five years. What does that say about its brand?

Go back 40 years. Loyal Labour voters thought it stood for social security, free education and health care, progressive taxes and a managed economy. Then the Lange-Douglas government radically freed the economy, slashed income tax and imposed co-payments for social services. Labour voters got confused, then angry. Labour split three ways. Its vote plunged.

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National's highs and complex lows

National is the usual party of government. Since its first win in 1949 it has been in office 42 of 63 years — two-thirds of the time.

Moreover, there is reason to hope for four years more. The annual conference this month will be buoyed by polling averaging 45 per cent-plus. Ministers have been delivering business-friendly policy with vigour.

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Balancing the books not enough any more

This month the Treasury will publish its third long-range fiscal projections. They will be one reflection of the fact that we are in a period of great social, and therefore political — and fiscal — change.

There will be three main elements to the projections, which go out to 2060.

First, the change now under way in the age structure of the population — proportionately more older and fewer younger people — poses significant revenue and spending challenges, starting this decade.

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Can No 3 work with No 2 to be No 1?

June is the Greens’ usual conference month. These days they are more than a curiosity. Eighteen months from now Greens might be in a cabinet for the first time.
That is not a forecast. There is a long, winding, bumpy road between this halfway point in the parliamentary term and the election, probably November 2014. If National can fix its political management, it still has the advantage.

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English's real fiscal balancing act

This month Bill English produces his last budget before the one which is supposed to have a plus sign in front of the balance. Can he do it? What is the point?

Whether he can do it depends partly on Beehive determination, partly on the global economy and partly on untoward events at.

English measures up on determination in two ways.

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The Anzac two: separate but joint

April is a month for thinking about Australia because it has Anzac Day in it: the day we two countries separately commemorate our joint defeat in Gallipoli. Separate-but-joint defines us.

Each country puts different weights on the “separate” and the “joint”. New Zealand cannot ignore the “joint” even when going its “separate” way in international relations. Australia is a prior quasi-domestic issue. Not so the other way round.

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A quiet settling of two contentious policies

Two largely-under-the-radar shifts have been going on in the government over the past year or so. Unlike a lot of what the government has been doing, these may well lead to a durable consensus.

One is in penal policy.

Justice Minister Judith Collins maintains the fierce face of lock-em-up politics that gave her the nickname “Crusher” for legislation to crush street racers’ cars. Very few have been crushed but it looked tough, which served the politics well.

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"Active" versus "results": this year's contest

Jobs. That, in a word, is what the government is about this year. Against that Labour will pose “active government”.

Before the 2011 election senior ministers decided 2012 had to generate “results” to take to the 2014 election.

After a first term, in which a government usually sets up its agenda, atmospherics substitute in the election for demonstrable results. John Key provided the atmospherics in 2011.

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A centralising government

What is local and what is central? The Key government has rephrased this as what is local is central — when it gets in the way of economic development.

In 1841 on its second day the Legislative Council debated a bill to regularise local government. A Wellington council had been set up before the Treaty of Waitangi. A bottom-up, uncontrolled local initiative had to be reined it for national colonial rule to work.

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