Someone (I don’t know who) said:
Elections are not won by Opposition parties; the Government loses them.
On the surface this may seem like double speak in that one part of the statement cancels out the other part.
You might call it a creeping malaise and history has shown that with the exception of the Government of Keith Holyoake, no one Government has managed to secure four consecutive terms in office during peace time.
The malaise is something that generally starts to set in shortly after the start of the third term. It is something that might start subconsciously with the members of the governing party knowing that this is probably their last term in office before a spell on the opposition benches begins. It might be a complacency that forms naturally from having won three terms on the trot. Ministers and caucus members alike losing touch with the crucial centre of New Zealand politics. This includes the swing voters that alternate between the major political parties. It also includes interest groups who depending on how charismatic or seemingly clued up a particular party leader may be, can be persuaded to vote.
So how does it go
In the first term – with the exception of Labour in 1957-1960 (Sidney Holland) and 1972-1975 (Norman Kirk/Bill Rowling) – since the advent of the two modern mainstream parties, neither has been a one term wonder. Mr Holland’s Government came down because he made the mistake of not being honest about raising taxes. This is a generally rare event because most parties, despite being keen to get on with their agenda, generally act with a degree of caution. Perceived wrong doings are pounced on and the key ministers are generally quick to try to repair any perceptions of wrongdoing. It is a short lived Minister who fails this test in the first term. The leaders will be fresh and energetic with a vitality that is almost never present in the third term and often starting to show signs of waning in the second term.
The second term, most times is achieved because an Opposition might not have at this point finished their post defeat reorganization. Generally there is a public acceptance of this, which is why although one might see flashes of terrible leadership, it is recognized as coming from an interim Opposition leader who is buying time rather than building up to be Prime Minister. The Government begins to lay down its core agenda in this term. The policies more suited to its core constituents begin to be unveiled. A minor crack here and there might exist but it will probably not be until the third year that it becomes noticeable.
A leader who commands both the respect and of the public and his/her party can quite realistically pull a third term off, though – this government excepted – the margin of victory willl be much close as National leader Don Brash proved. Dr Brash, a former head of the Reserve Bank brought an appeal back to the core of the National party after a 2002 thrashing. However his unapologetically hard line stance on social welfare and Maori issues put off the female and Maori voters. In M.M.P. politics where a degree of compromise with coalition parties is always a necessity, this is where having a rapport with the minor parties and the centre becomes essential. The Government of Prime Minister John Key came close to getting an outright majority, but needed A.C.T., Maori Party and United Future to get it over the line.
At that point giddy with success, Ministers and caucus members alike often lose the plot. This Government is under sustained fire on housing, health, the environment, which despite not being seemingly being able to score notable hits, nevertheless appears relentless.Confident of their invincibility, sloppiness sets in. A degree of arrogance will have taken hold. At this point also the public now have a good idea of where the country is going and whether or not they wish for it to persist. Even if many do wish for it to persist they will be aware of poorly performing Ministers. Bill English has a bevy of these at the moment. In any other term they might be okay, but Simon Bridges trying to hide an Official Information Act request is potentially damaging. Having Gerry Brownlee as Minister of Foreign Affairs is galvanizing the left and more moderate voters.
Top it off with some brazen violations of human rights law; simply amending laws already on the book to cover up misdeeds and stretching grey areas of the law to breaking point and you have a pretty toxic situation
This is what will finish off this particular Government. A Government that increasingly loses any semblance of principle and respectability. It is why I am confident that despite the polls suggesting otherwise, that this Government will end on 23 September 2017.
Not the Opposition.