John Key’s departure means the election campaign has started early - Campbell Squared
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John Key

John Key’s departure means the election campaign has started early

Our Government Relations Consultant, Lindsay Faris, takes a closer look at the political developments of the last few days.

With a new leader about to be elected by the National caucus, Labour’s Andrew Little considering a re-shuffle with Michael Wood joining the fold (post their conclusive victory in the Mt Roskill by-election), and David Shearer heading to South Sudan, next year’s election campaign has started early.

Until Key’s resignation the election was almost certain to be in the latter half of the year. Now it would make some sense for a new leader to strike-while-the-iron-is-hot and take the momentum of a renewed (albeit shocked) National Party, to the voters, while capitalising on Labour’s failure, thus far, to turn the political tide. They would carry all JK’s goodwill, without having too much time to make mistakes. Labour’s win in Mr Roskill, was not unexpected at all. Labour ran an experienced and well-known candidate, connected with his electorate and with strong Labour Party support. Their data-based electioneering served them well, and National’s candidate was uninspiring at best.

That said, Key’s resignation is Labour’s biggest break going into an election year. JK, aka ‘Teflon man’, is soon to depart; how the next few days, prior to the leadership vote on Monday play out, will be crucial. Come Monday afternoon, more than anything, the National caucus will need to show a united front, fully supportive of whoever they choose as leader. The last thing they, or the New Zealand public want, is a replay of Labour’s leadership shows over the last few years.

A new leader could take concrete and bold policy to the polls, on hard-to-fix topics such as superannuation and housing, and march forward from the 2017 election with a mandate to set change in motion. Chances of National winning again in 2020 are slim (but not out of the question), this is their time to make a difference. English may however, follow JK’s incremental approach to change, slow and steady wins the race, which has served him well over his career so far.

Likely election issues in 2017

With Key out of the picture – the age of superannuation could become a focus issue next year. Holding the Finance portfolio for the last eight years English is acutely aware of the fiscal implications of the aging population. Watch this space.

Poverty and homelessness will continue to be front and centre – and will frame a discussion around how the wealth that has been created over the last few years has been shared, and how many people are sleeping in their cars. National may announce tax cuts – Labour will argue for distribution of wealth through the benefit system.

Housing affordability remains a hard nut-to-crack, with many levers pulled, and many policy initiatives in place to mitigate this already. Changes made to Reserve Bank settings over the course of the last few years are starting to have a marked impact on the market. This will likely show up more significantly in house sales statistics released before year end, or early next year. The conversation will shift to the only space left – planning laws and the RMA. English has already indicated that this would be an area he might have different views to Key on. This debate would re-ignite the broader issues around local government efficiency, the use of CCOs, development planning and the relationship between local and central government.

They say ‘a day is a long time in politics’, so let’s see what Monday’s announcement brings. One thing’s for sure, New Zealand politics just got a bit more interesting.