No rash promises needed as days tick by

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 08:41 30/06/2014

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OPINION: Not that that anyone is counting but it is just over 80 days till the election. If you weren't aware of that before the weekend's National Party conference, you should be by now.

It has become Prime Minister John Key's mantra - "it's 84 days till the election," he told delegates on Saturday. "It's 83 days till the election," he reminded reporters yesterday.

It seems to have become Key's equivalent of fingering a set of worry beads. Maybe it's a reminder to pace himself. That was certainly evident at yesterday's policy launch.

Anyone expecting a splashy announcement would have found it an anti-climax.

Key used his speech to announce that a raft of regional roading projects would be brought forward, using money from the asset sales - a reminder to voters that National flogged off power company shares for a reason.

It's bread-and-butter stuff but then at this stage of the electoral cycle National doesn't need to do much more.

The party is close to 50 per cent in most major polls. National is in no need of a game changer or a big splash - that's Labour leader David Cunliffe's particular mountain to climb, starting this weekend when Labour holds its annual conference, also in Wellington.

There will be complaints that the roading spendup is a taste of old- fashioned pork barrel politics - and it is a bit of that.

But then this is an election. And there will be plenty more pork barrels rolled out between now and September 20.

There could be other reasons for Key's fixation with the number of days to go, of course. Maybe it is a note to self that a lot can go wrong between cup and lip.

That was certainly the case in the 2011 election, when the campaign took on a life of its own and very nearly derailed National's dream run.

All the ingredients are there for a repeat given the frenetic pace of the political year so far and fraying tempers on the Opposition benches.

National's strategists will be quietly pleased then that the weekend conference fitted the "no frills, steady as she goes" brief to a tee.

The biggest controversy was the launch of National's social media strategy which looked to have misfired badly after being mercilessly parodied by its opponents. Tweeting a line-by-line account of Key's 30-minute speech didn't help matters.

The biggest bogy, meanwhile, was not Labour or the Greens, but complacency. But as Key keeps reminding us - there are still 80-plus days to go.

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