The Labour Party finally - thank god - got some good news today with Cameron Slater managing an epic fail in hacking (not hacking) their donors list, also they had a rather good omen a couple of days ago via the latest Roy Morgan Poll which has them gaining on National - it may not be enough to govern but eight percent is a giant leap in the right direction. Most commentators feel it may be on the back of National's plan to sell off the silverware, or as they would put it, "mixed ownership," of said silverware, even though the silverware happens to profitable and continually profitable. Whether or not you believe our current fiscal situation is dire enough to warrant asset sales is a moot point. What is interesting is not just the poll's results but the causal relationship between the poll and the National Party's main political problem: the problem is how they actually managed to come into power all those years ago.
When National began campaigning they made huge changes to the political landscape by moving their party closer to the center, away from the lunacy of Don Brash to a friendlier, broader and of course more like-able foil in the form of John Key. They had identified a need for change and campaigned hard on what gave them traction: the need for change, softer National policies, showers and light-bulbs. They used Key's personality, charisma and cocksure swagger to generate a picture of a reformed National Party. The picture consisted of a re-invigorated, ambitious, contemporary, every-man party; that should be given a chance to govern on the basis that Helen Clark had her chance - it was time for someone new, something new, and National was, of course, the something new and as a result the political pendulum swayed in their favor as the politically dis-interested began to swing.
Now while National have enjoyed amazing results in terms of polls and popularity they still have an Albatross indefinitely wrapped around their neck. The Albatross being that when you campaign on vague, lofty ideas you invariably imprison yourself with those lofty ideas, you simply have no mandate or wriggle room to change anything meaningful - a Leopard cannot change its spots. And as we've seen over the last three years National have only been able to make minuscule changes to the country's political and social infra-structure, any divergence from their original position has caused ripples through the NZ psyche, small ripples but the ripples get larger as the volatility of public opinion gathers mass. They have tried their best to manage the size of the ripples by their use of language like "taking the edges off the recession," "mixed ownership, rather than selling assets," and other PR exercises. They have ducked and dodged where appropriate and been helped out by numerous natural disasters stealing focus: but the Albatross still remains. As soon as anything of substance about policy comes from them a la ACC, Kiwisaver, WFF, and more recently asset sales, the pendulum swings backwards and even vaguer language is used.
So the question must be asked: can they shake the Albatross from around their neck? With two thirds of the population against asset sales it's hard to see how they could, they have no mandate to remove it and their continual undermining of Kiwisaver hasn't done them any favors either. My gut feeling is National believes it has enough political capital to get through to another term and can afford to burn off some for the sake of getting something unpopular but nonetheless meaningful pushed through. Perhaps with the turmoil of the current economic crisis, the pike river tragedy, and Christchurch's numerous expensive rattles people are willing to believe the sky is falling, the end is near and drastic cannibalistic actions are needed. Perhaps National believe Goff's lack of personality means he is unable to offer a valid option to the NZ public and are capitalizing on the lack of political competition. All of these possible scenarios require a lot of selling, John Key is up to the task but the problem is the rest of the party aren't and the mistake is they have given Labour traction. Labour can quite easily ride asset sales til November, with two thirds of the country against asset sales you'd be a fool not to and they have more than enough time to hammer it home - they do of course require decent hammer hands, Mallard and Cunliffe should be interesting over the next couple of weeks. With Cameron Slater hacking (not hacking), releasing (not releasing) Labour's donors' information National have a tonne more headaches in front of them.
The problem with the donor list is the potential of it being a smoking gun of National's party activities, whilst asset sales can be massaged, the privacy act, the law cannot, they're not Partisan issues: they are the law. No National supporter would like their privacy infringed upon, nobody would. Whilst Cameron Slater gets legal advice, which I hope for his sake is return the information, apologize and hope for the best. National have a huge choice to make in how they handle this situation, misreading it could be fatal. If they mock Labour for the security breach they are effectively agreeing and condoning a blatant crime. If they sidestep the issue and leave Slater to the wolves, then Labour can ask why National is consorting with confessed criminals - they can do this either way actually.
Once again the Albatross of campaigning on personality and soft-policies means they cannot do anything else, they can't attack Labour overtly, they can't shift further to the right, they can't flip-flop on asset sales, Kiwisaver, ACC et all, as all this would do is cause the pendulum to swing further against them. The picture of an ambitious, new, contemporary, every-man party starts to become too diffuse, toxic and unrealistic - the pendulum continues to swing further away from them. National may think they can afford the luxury of tossing the Albatross off and running a campaign on their core values with Phil Goff's popularity floundering, perhaps that would be justified - but let's not forget Helen Clark was all but written off as a leader before taking on Jim Bolger in 1996, and Jim only managed to scrape by with a couple of percentages. Today's political landscape is different from 1996 and any further capital they lose would be too much, they will have to continue run on personality, soft-policies, leverage the numerous quakes as reasons for an impotent, lacklustre economy and government: but will NZ believe them?
I guess we'll find out in November.