Political stalemate in 2012

TALKING POLITICS BY GORDON CAMPBELL
Last updated 11:34 17/12/2012

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OPINION: More than anything, 2012 has shown the power of brand loyalty in politics, over and above the chatter and clatter of the weekly news cycle.

After a year in which so much seemed to happen, the major political parties ended 2012 largely as they began it.

Support for National and its leader, John Key, is down only marginally from a year ago, although enough to leave New Zealand First potentially holding the balance of power in the 2014 election.

Labour leader David Shearer remains a deeply flawed work in progress, and the Greens ended 2012 with the same 10.5 per cent level of support they earned on election night just over a year ago.

The Government must be surprised (and relieved) at the public's relative fidelity.

The string of disasters on its watch included the privacy violations and disarray at ACC, the postponement of the asset sales programme, the ongoing embarrassment of the Kim Dotcom arrest and extradition case, and the fumbled rebuild of Christchurch . . . to name just a few.

In no time flat, Education Minister Hekia Parata went from having a promising career to being a slogan-spouting disaster zone. Singlehandedly, Parata presided over the class sizes debacle, the botched Christchurch school closures and the Novopay fiasco, in a year that gave her no respite.

On the wider front, New Zealand's economic growth all but flatlined during 2012.

Serious problems with unemployment, child poverty, income inequality, river pollution and the provision of affordable housing all spent 2012 in the Government's "too-hard" basket.

The much-touted hopes for prosperity based on oil and gas exploration all but evaporated, as the likes of the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras (and others) either handed back their exploration licences or suspended their operations here.

For much of 2012, the Government appeared confused and irritated by the problems at hand.

Repeatedly, it tried to pass off distractions like The Hobbit movie or the mooted convention centre in Auckland as if these were matters of national significance.

Remarkably, the public did not crucify them for doing so.

One reason for that was that Labour consistently muffed its chances to capitalise on the situation.

For most of 2012, David Shearer seemed like a vacancy looking for a job. Often inarticulate and indecisive, Shearer led a Labour front bench that was consistently outperformed by the Greens even on its own policy ground, let alone when confronting the Government.

Ironically, Shearer's most decisive moment during 2012 involved banishing his talented colleague David Cunliffe to the back benches, largely because of Cunliffe's failure to rule out a possible leadership challenge next year - a challenge that seemed credible solely because of Shearer's underwhelming performance this year.

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The Greens have perhaps the most reason to feel frustrated by the year's outcome.

Despite outperforming Labour at every turn and despite the formidably articulate Russel Norman emerging as the most credible centre-left spokesperson on economic policy, the Greens ended 2012 with their old hoodoo intact.

Seemingly, the Greens can't break through the 15 per cent polling barrier.

Until they reach and maintain that level, they can't seriously expect to engage with Labour as virtual equals in any future government.

For all these reasons, few around Parliament will be sorry to see the back of 2012.

- Kapi-Mana News

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