Always fascinating watching a government pander to its supporters: a sure sign of an administration in trouble. John Key's scatter-brained outfit are a case in point. When you have no political vision, no clue of what you stand for and no particular skills to offer apart from buying and selling stuff, the temptation is to seek out the approval of like-minded souls. To buffer yourself against criticism. To reassure yourself that you're on the right track.
Our National-led government is ticking all those boxes. Key's even taken to defending his asset sales proposals on the basis of a "mandate" at last year's voting booth. In other words, he's showing all the signs of believing he only needs to represent those New Zealanders who voted for him. Or, at least those he thinks voted for him. The notion that he's supposed to be representing the entire nation, not just his coalition supporters, seems to have passed him by.
It's a dangerous game, for a couple of reasons. For starters, the more Key's government looks inwardly to justify its decisions, the more it preaches to the converted, the less chance it has to grow its support base where it counts. The dyed-in-the-wool cheerleaders who back it now will also back it at the next election; we already know that. But right now, the government seems to be growing more opposition than support. And the more it retrenches, the worse it gets.
The other point? It's just so hard these days to define who the government's fan club really is. Take the religious right. Most of their constituents would've voted for one of the coalition parties at the last two elections but for what gain? The government they backed now provides free contraception to some young women, against their philosophy of abstinence. And Key's new welfare laws for unemployed mums is said to be encouraging abortion.
No need to stop there, though. This year has been littered with examples of the National Party, in particular, working against the common good in order to mollify and indulge its perceived support base. The retirement age for superannuation is but a recent example. Everyone on the planet knows the qualifying age has to go up but Key and his cronies are refusing to budge. Why? They suspect many of their core supporters will be affected.
Same goes for capital gains tax. When proposed by Labour late last year the concept attracted across-the-board backing. Even those business and economics mouthpieces, usually idealogically inclined towards right-wing politics, thought it a worthy initiative. Once again, however, Key wouldn't have a bar of it. Why? Those already rorting the system were most likely his supporters. Hence, we don't have capital gains tax but we have to flog our assets.
And the list goes on. Stephen Joyce blocked a law requiring boaties to wear life-jackets because he guessed many boat owners would be of National Party persuasion. The government won't lower the blood-alcohol limit for motorists because it knows liquor is the drug of choice amongst its faithful. In fact, it's watering down the Alcohol Reform Bill for exactly that reason: better to let alcohol-related carnage continue than risk losing votes.
Guess that's the problem with a government that stands for little, apart from rewarding those who support it. Nothing meaningful ever really happens, or, if it does, it happens for all the wrong reasons. The only consolation? Just that, the more our National-led coalition looks within itself for reassurance and support, the more it feeds what recent political polls suggest are growing ranks of opponents.
Hopefully, it won't notice until it's too late.
» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
» Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardboock.
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