It is over. The 52nd New Zealand Parliament formally ended yesterday. In a Parliamentary term that has had volcanic eruption, a terrorist attack, a pandemic, a colossal National Party melt down and a cocktail of scandals showing the worst of “Parliamentarians behaving badly”, the headline makers have had a field day. We have seen some good policy, some bad policy; good ministerial work (Kris Faafoi in Civil Defence) and bad ministerial work (David Clark). But as we head into the election campaign period, both National and Labour are chilling on policy.
This sudden chill on policy bothers me. Maybe both parties are stalling for time because they have been so wrapped up in COVID19 issues that they simply have not gotten around to thinking about decent policy – there have been suggestions by the conspiracy theorists that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern might postpone or even cancel the election on COVID19 related grounds. These are clearly whack ideas from people with either little clue on how democracy works, or perhaps more sinisterly, they want to spread disinformation to invoke fear in the public.
Our constitutional laws require that we hold an election in 2020. There is no reason for the Government not to. Every Government wants to say that it won the election fair and square. Right now the election is Labour’s to lose. Cruising in the polls with Ms Ardern being the most popular Labour Prime Minister in modern times, they have every reason to want to have the election. So, where is the policy? Or are you suggesting we take up Bryce Edwards idea of postponing the election?
In the case of National the complete lack of decent policy can be in part traced to the party’s massive meltdown. Roads, roading, and more roads seem to be the only coherent policy that National have at the moment, which is bad news for a party wanting to spend only one term on the Opposition benches. One might have thought that even if it is a relatively typical National Party policy something might have been said about justice, defence, education, health, conservation and so forth. But as yet other than leader Judith Collins attacking Labour for having little policy, the silence is notable.
Labour are less explicable. With an election to lose I honestly thought they would be talking about a Labour legacy based on a mandate that they might not have again for 25-30 years. In building that legacy I thought comprehensive policy changes in at least one or more of the following areas might be on the way: social welfare, health, education, justice, and so forth.
I am sure many New Zealanders will have noted Ms Ardern’s comments about not expecting much big policy with some surprise and perhaps a bit of confusion. The dissertation by Thomas Coughlan on this matter a couple of days ago was comprehensive and should be pause for thought among all New Zealanders. Elections are meant to be as Mr Coughlan notes, a contest of ideas. They are not meant to be the partisan bitching contests that the recent ones have devolved into. The faster both parties realize this and start putting out some decent policy for me to debate with mates over beers in the coming weeks, the better.