The ball game is well and truly back on

by Jake Quinn

Over at the Standard Marty G says:

What a remarkable turn-around in the mood of the Left the last few weeks. People are seriously talking about 2011 as winnable. Key’s spark is gone, the media have said ‘enough grins, John, time to actually do something’, Phil Goff suddenly looks much more like a PM in waiting, and his speech, when you see it for what it actually is – the policy/strategy plan for the remainder of the term – has given Labour supporters something they can really get behind. I haven’t seen people this positive in years.

I would tend to agree.  When people asked me about Labour’s hopes for 2011 in the months after the 2008 election I would have said that they probably didn’t have a chance.  National had just cobbled together what looked like a cunning balance between the Māori Party and ACT, where no single tail could wag the dog.

It was a seemingly genius arrangement that allowed them to play each of their governing partners off against each other, while they would always look like the moderate sensible mediator.

What’s more, the economy was terrible and no one blamed National.  Every month their polls just kept going up, while newspaper editors the country over were talking about a three term National government.  Meanwhile, Labour was battling hard to just be heard, let alone have anyone agree with them.

And Key really did seem like he might just be a leader, like he might just do something bold, something outside of the tired and predictable National play book of the 1990s that would truly benefit New Zealanders.  I, like many Kiwis, was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Fast forward to February 2010 and the game has really changed.  National’s record stands at cancelling middle-class tax cuts and superannuation savings, halving kiwisaver, an announced but undelivered cycleway (to nowhere), increased ACC levies and cuts to its services, cancelled adult education classes (to find extra money for those struggling private schools – you know the ones, with NBA standard basketball courts!), hoisting a flag whose logo appears uncomfortably similar to that of the Maori Party’s all over government buildings, and some talk about mining the conservation estate.  Hardly ambitious, more like depressing.

Then along came the Tax Working Group and with it an orgy of suggested new taxes to slap on the middle class, none of which were ruled out.  Even just talk of new taxes is bad for the government, hence why Mr Key will probably (hopefully for his, the country’s, but not the opposition’s sake) rule out a GST increase tomorrow rather than letting that cancerous stick continue to be used to beat him.

All in all, the shine really seems to have come of this popular government and I fully expect the polls, particularly as the year progresses, to start to reflect this.  2011 is no longer a forgone conclusion, and the more the Labour leader realises this, the more forceful and energised he will become.  We’ve already started to see it with his speech ‘the many. not the few‘ delivered two weeks ago in Hamilton.