Blowing your credibility

Rob Hosking has a good article at NBR about how John Key and National are blowing their credibility in Northland.

The ultimate failure of leadership is a leader who proves his opponents right and the followers who trusted him wrong: National risks heading in that direction. Critics of Prime Minister John Key have often derided him as being too focused on short-term popularity, and of being almost shallowly concerned with poll ratings. It has always appeared a shallow analysis in itself but the prime minister’s approach to the Northland by-election makes one wonder.

After years of preaching ? wisely and rightly ? fiscal restraint, the government is now behaving like a bulimic doing a 60-second dash through a pie shop.

Only if Gerry hasn’t eaten all the pies first.

One can quibble about whether the new roads and bridges, totally $69 million and counting, promised so far are really new spending. At present, they look like being re-prioritised spending from other parts of the country. Therefore, it is not, technically, new spending and does not mean a relaxation of the government?s fiscal restraint of recent years.

But how long can that last, one wonders? Probably, one suspects, until it is known which areas who were going to get new spending on transport are now going to lose it.

It is a reasonable bet they are not going to be happy. And while they are not ? unless the political gods are feeling particularly mischievous ? going to be the sites of by-elections, like Northland, they have learned something from recent weeks.

The government is biddable. Highly biddable, and, to be blunt, a bit weak.

That is potentially toxic for future policy development.

It is shameless pork barrel politics, which will have consequences, especially with the transferred priorities. It will be hard for John Key to front up in East Auckland soon and explain why those people must sit in traffic while 10 bridges get widened in Northland.

This is the real danger of the Northland by-election ? the message being sent to the rest of the country.

National has been re-elected, twice now, promising a fiscally restrained policy. The drastic austerity (admittedly more apparent in rhetoric than in reality) of many northern hemisphere countries in the post-global financial crisis world has been avoided.

Given the chance of voting for a tax-and-spend “back to the 1970s” programme from New Zealand?s Left at the last election, New Zealanders fairly conclusively rejected that offer.

Yet this is the Joyce plan for winning Northland…plenty of pork.

Bizarrely, National seems to have ditched all this. In doing so, it is making New Zealand First leader Winston actually look principled by comparison.

Wavering Northland voters will make two perfectly logical calculations. One is that, if having Mr Peters around gets them this much attention and fiscal largesse, then installing him for three years probably isn?t a bad idea for them.

At a more meta-level, they could well decide that if they?re going to have an unprincipled mountebank promising them the earth, they might has well have the one with the most experience at the whole, expensive circus.

Classy stuff that last paragraph, and Winston will be a whole heap more fun on the whisky.