OPINION: It doesn’t get much bluer than the blood that runs through the veins of former National Cabinet minister Philip Burdon.
He served alongside the likes of Bill Birch and Jenny Shipley and held the blue ribbon seat of Fendalton in Christchurch from 1981 to 1996.
So any back-slapping between John Key and his Cabinet after Saturday’s Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll would have been cut short when they picked up a copy of Tuesday’s Christchurch Press.
As the country prepares to mark the third year anniversary of Christchurch’s devastating quake, Burdon launched a stinging broadside at the Government over its handling of the rebuild.
Among his criticisms was that the Government needed to ‘‘move beyond an endless succession of photo opportunities for the prime minister’’ and start addressing the city’s stagnation and frustration.
It didn’t end there. Cera, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, had turned into a Wellington-based bureaucracy, negative and unimaginative as it mindlessly follows the rules, Burdon said.
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was also singled out for his ‘‘provocative’’ relationship with local government.
National should be worried.
If the likes of Burdon are telling it the rebuild is going off-track, it can probably assume it is going off-track.
The last election saw National delivered a resounding endorsement by Christchurch for its handling of the February 22 earthquake. The latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll suggests Christchurch voters continue to keep the faith; National’s support has weakened but it is still polling at 47.8 per cent in Canterbury, and optimism is riding high, with 64 per cent of Canterbury voters thinking the country is on the right track.
But polls don’t tell the full story. There are ominous signs already that the rocky relationship between Brownlee and the previous mayor and council has been carried over to the new council, and mayor Lianne Dalziel.
The Government might have got away with blaming the previous relationship on an increasingly dysfunctional council.
But the onus is now on it to make sure the new relationship does not go the same way.
It is not just Christchurch’s future as a vibrant and exciting city to live that is at stake. Christchurch is also the linchpin of the economic recovery.
Brownlee’s tendency to bulldoze over his opponents might have worked in his favour in the early days when there was a sense of urgency about putting a broken city back together again. That urgency remains. But if anything, central Government has become the choke point in the decision-making process.
If National wins a third term, Key will have two choices. His Government can either keep butting heads with the Christchurch city council, or he can build bridges with the new mayor and council by putting a fresh face in charge.
Finance Minister Bill English recently announced he was standing aside from his Clutha-Southland seat in favour of a list only spot. Should we take that as a hint?
Scratch beneath the bravado in Labour these days and you will find a pessimist.
Blame it on the weather or a shortened barbecue season, but Labour MPs seem already to be doubting the prospect of a Labour win. Even the optimists don’t much bother to pretend they believe in Labour overtaking National any more. They argue instead that with the Greens votes they don’t need to.
It may be politics as MMP intended it but it is still a long way removed from the mindset that reigned in Labour under Helen Clark.
Clark’s focus first and foremost was to amass the most votes to give herself a strong hand in post-election negotiations.
Her alliance with the Greens was at best uneasy, and at its worst acrimonious. You didn’t have to be a mind reader to figure out that relations between Miss Clark and Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons were at an all time low on the 2002 campaign trail. Miss Clark’s body language during the televised debates said it all.
Constantly torn by the dilemma of whether to sidle up to the Greens or cannibalise their vote, Labour’s relationship with the Greens remains the source of internal party soul searching.
But it has been a long time since the polls delivered a scenario where Labour could do without them.
That is in contrast to Miss Clark who had the luxury of leaving the minor party marooned to her left while she bought others, such as UnitedFuture or NZ First, inside the tent.
But Clark was benefiting at the time from a weak National Party – something no Labour leader since has enjoyed.
The latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll shows National is as popular as ever after six years in power. Labour will be hoping a One News-Colmar Brunton poll due out this weekend shows a different trend. But the muted response to the Fairfax poll suggests it was not far off the mark from Labour’s own polling.
Even Left-wing blogs and the likes of columnist Chris Trotter, torch bearer for David Cunliffe’s leadership, have started writing off the prospects of a Labour win.
Some of that may be self serving. Many of the party’s activists believe the revolution, that began with the rule change giving the membership a deciding vote in the leadership, is only half done.
Their fulminating may be as much about fomenting a wider backlash against the likes of Phil Goff and Trevor Mallard, Labour’s so-called ‘‘old guard’’, who are resisting pressure to bow out despite leading the group of MPs who were outright antagonistic about the prospect of Cunliffe as leader.
But this a dangerous time for Labour. Once a belief takes root that an election is unwinnable it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It seems too soon yet for that to have happened within Labour. But Cunliffe may be discovering the limits of running a caucus of which at least half was never more than lukewarm about his leadership.
A good poll would have united the caucus behind him. Conversely, one bad poll was all it was ever going to take for those who doubted Mr Cunliffe’s leadership to feel vindicated. That was always the risk Labour’s activist base took in imposing a leader on the caucus.
The problem for Labour is that ‘‘I told you so’’ doesn’t win elections. Nor does it help heal a divided caucus.
- Fairfax Media