Testing David Shearer — and his party

The Labour party is now four years in opposition and two years away from its next bid. Its conference mid-month will be a measure of its transition.

Labour has to do four things: rethink policy; modernise its organisation; demonstrate it is a lead-government-party-in-waiting; and demonstrate it is assembling a government-in-waiting.

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An opening for a legacy initiative

Forget asset sales. Forget fiscal consolidation. Forget cows and oil. When the Key government is assessed at its end, its importation into some social policy of an actuarial/investment technique might well be judged its most important policy initiative.

This month Social Development Minister Paula Bennett will issue a white paper on a topic to which that technique is particularly appropriate: “vulnerable children”, whose rescue is becoming a major public management and long-term economic issue.

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A watery grave or water under the bridge?

This month is the deadline for the Land and Water Forum to finalise consensus on water management. A lot hangs on this.

The forum is a policymaking experiment in “collaborative governance”, a variant on a Scandinavian technique used to resolve complex policy conundrums. At issue is whether this will be New Zealand’s one and only attempt.

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Rethinking how to do government post–GFC

It’s five years from the first stutterings that turned into the global financial crisis — time enough for governments to have stopped treating symptoms and hoping for the best. The world is not going back to old business-as-usual. Some think it is time to rethink how governments operate.

After the 1929 crash and subsequent depression governments took to planning, which gave us social security and the mixed economy. After the 1973 oil crisis and collapse of the Bretton Woods system, governments ditched planning as futile in favour of “more-market” economies which were assumed to tend always to equilibrium.

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Leadership and the next normal

David Shearer’s first six months as Labour leader were not the bold, knock-em-down poll-ramping the traditional media measure. So they fed off rumour-mongering right-wing and left-of-Labour blogs to roast him.

They missed the point. Political leadership has many dimensions.

Supposedly charisma-free types can win office and stay there. Helen Clark climbed from 2 per cent as preferred Prime Minister in 2006 to the longest term of office since 1972. She proved to be strong, which voters like (for a time).

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The missing dark art of political management

Six months into the first year of its second term the government was on the back foot. How did this happen, after a big vote of confidence last November? Blame management.
The plan was simple and front-footing: initiate a raft of changes to demonstrate a government in charge, clear-sighted, with a programme and focused on “results”.

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Lurking laws of Budgets and taxes

It’s Budget month, Bill English’s fourth. He’s back to zero net new spending, this time because of weak revenue, not an earthquake. This is a big political gamble. And it illustrates a lurking law of taxation.

The gamble is that voters in 2014 will care more about a return to fiscal surplus than about service guarantees. That might be a risky call.

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Winston and the foregone-conclusion effect

One route to paralysis in decision-making and action is to assume a foregone conclusion.

Climate change apostles make this mistake when they say apocalypse is imminent. Most people then shrug, figuring nothing they do will stave off doom.

Sports teams make the mistake by relaxing when a long way ahead or thinking the other side inferior, then getting a shock. It was a foregone conclusion the All Blacks would eat France in the rugby world cup final — they scratched a one-point win.

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When low interest rates might not be best

Alan Bollard delivers his third-to-last monetary policy statement this month. The good news is that last year inflation dropped into the bottom half of his 1-3 per cent target range. So, is he going out on a high?

Central banks are supposed to be dead boring. Over the past three years they have become truly central to much of the global economy, doing things sober central bankers are not supposed to do to remedy what market bankers caused by doing things they were not supposed to do.

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Defining the Key government

There is a rule: a government is defined by its first year of its second term. That’s what National bosses believe. The pressure is on John Key and his cabinet.

Key made that point by implication when appointing his cabinet in December: he was looking for results and would judge his ministers accordingly.

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