A contrast in leaders shapes the election decision

Leaders count. They add personality to parties, a prism through which voters see, and in part assess, the parties.
Leaders have always counted. In 1928, long before television brought leaders up close in the living room, the resurrection of old-stager Sir Joseph Ward, portrayed as a financial wizard in hard times, won the ramshackle United party enough seats to govern. By 1984 television-smart Sir Robert Muldoon had driven droves of National voters to despair with his bullying and statist economic policies. Defeat was assured.

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Brand, image, values

Political parties — the big ones at least — these days aim not just to “campaign” but to “market”, to push “products” to “consumers”. There’s a small industry geared to it. You’re in its sights right now.

Politicians and parties have long used advertisements, pamphlets and other sales aids to pitch for votes. In the 1920s A E Davy’s catchy slogans and ingenious organising helped usher first Gordon Coates and then Sir Joseph Ward — of opposing parties — into office in successive elections.

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Step-change or stasis: the economic policy choice

Michael Cullen is a paradox. So is his economy.

In debate in Parliament Cullen is the master of snide. Off-camera and relaxed, he can punch out a side-splitting one-liner a minute.

In public he is a grim Scrooge. But on television last week he let show, for just an instant, an emotional upset about the poor. His emotion about historical wrongs is a driver in his Treaty of Waitangi deals.

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Other ways of doing democracy

Would you like to vote to ban same-sex marriage, declare a fertilised human egg is a person or decriminalise personal use of marijuana? Welcome to the United States elections on November 4. That’s democracy — or is it?

In representative parliamentary democracies like ours voters elect people to Parliament to make decisions and laws and keep a check on the government on their behalf.

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Government arithmetic

MMP means “more meddlesome parties”. So some think who want shot of mixed-member proportional voting so the big old parties can have a freer hand. But this election the small party in the spotlight does not depend on proportional votes.

The Maori party, which might be the pivot in post-election negotiations, wins electorate seats, not list seats, so it doesn’t depend on MMP. In fact, those seats could be pivotal even under first past the post (FPP): in 1946-69 and in 1957-60 the then four Maori seats were critical to Labour governments’ majorities.

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Wanted: wisdom to prepare for a new world order

When central bankers in important countries panic in unison, is it time to reach for the tranquilisers? When the central bank of this unimportant country assures you yet again that our, mainly Australian, banking system is sound, do you twitch?

And does it calm you when an important campaigner for Prime Minister tells the Reserve Bank it should cut the official interest rate? Is that “prime ministerial” sure-footedness in crisis? Is that a cue to shift back from smooth guy John Key to tough guy Helen Clark?

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A bad time to be in government

Back in the early 1980s Sir Robert Muldoon used to grump that it was “not a good time to be in government” round the world because economies were in trouble. Now is also such a time. Or is there a silver lining?

Muldoon knew the political cost of a soggy economy: after a landslide win in 1975 his National party scored fewer votes than Labour in 1978 and 1981, staying in office only by dint of quirks in the voting system. By 1984 the economy was in such serious trouble — partly because he had administered the wrong medicine — that, rather than try to write a budget, he called an early election, which he lost in a landslide.

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A change of political generations

In July 1984 a bustling bunch of 30-40-somethings took over the Beehive and turned policy upside down. They are all out of politics now and a new lot of 30-40-somethings is itching to get its hands on the levers.

The 1984 crew were born in or not long after the second world war. As young adults in the 1960s they challenged their parents’ desire for order, security and prosperity and pursued personal and social freedom. In power in the 1980s they extended that push for freedom into economic and foreign policy.

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Are we ready for the politics of austerity?

New Zealanders, Bill English says, are “not brittle. They are resilient. They will do what has to be done.”

And what does he think has to be done? Weather the credit freeze. “By winter next year we will still be talking about the credit crisis.”

Compare 2005. At this point in the 2005 election campaign National and Labour were arguing about how to spend a huge budget surplus. John Key produced fiscal numbers which he said justified milk and honey for every taxpayer, with plenty left to bankroll the health and education systems.

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