Monday, April 14, 2008

Get used to the taste of dead rat

Over the weekend attempted to inoculate himself against the ghosts of National's past by promising that he would not sell any state assets during the first term of a National government. Like John Armstrong, I think the caveat is important, and immediately invites questions about what they plan to do in a second term. I'd also point out that Key has completely reversed himself on privatisation in a mere two months. But what's really interesting here is not National's attempts to hide its agenda from the New Zealand public, but rather Labour's underlying strategy. I've previously talked about this as Labour giving people positive reasons to vote for them, but there's another angle to it as well. By serving up dead rats and inviting National to chow down, Labour achieves three things:

  • In the short term, it wedges National between its base (who have never forsworn the 90's and want to restart the Revolution exactly where it left off) and the New Zealand public (who have and don't). The latter is disastrous for a party which is seeking 46 - 47% of the vote, hence the regular chewing noises from John Key.
  • In the medium term, it builds on Labour's two key narratives: that National is shifty and has no principles, and that it wants to go straight back to the 90's. If National responds differently to different policy announcements, they get hit with both.
  • In the long term, it forces National to give ground and shift to the centre. It also leaves them a poison pill, constraining them to implement large amounts of left-wing policy if elected. National could of course ignore this, but such a break with their pre-election commitments would invite immediate comparisons with their great betrayal in 1990, as well as inviting any centrist support parties to pull the plug. Effectively it forces National to choose between being mostly harmless (good from a left-wing perspective), or to being a one-term government which undermines its own long-term electability.

It's an elegant strategy, and its working. John Key is going to be offered a lot more dead rat over the next six months, hopefully including a super-size helping in the Budget.