National’s campaign launch yesterday was overshadowed by its Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith having to admit before the broadcast that the figures on which he had based the affordability of his $4 billion tax cut were wrong.
Newshub summed the consequences up with a banner: “National’s disastrous launch” while Finance Minister Grant Robertson said it simply showed the party did not have the experience to run the economy.
National’s changes of leader and campaign fumbles are now opening up space for other more right-wing parties to contest the centre-right political space.
The error yesterday centred on what is supposed to be the heart of its campaign; $4 billion in tax cuts to boost the post-Covod recovery
National’s tax cuts were to be financed by stopping contributions to NZ Super Fund, but the party had used figures from the May Budget to support their affordability and failed to recognise that Robertson had reduced the estimated contributions to the fund in the PREFU published last Wednesday.
The error might have been avoided had National taken up the long-standing Opposition “perk” of having a Treasury official embedded in the Leader’s office. (former National leader, Simon Bridges, has clarified this saying the only staffer offered by Treasury did not have an economics background.)
Ultimately it was an error which while massively embarrassing is unlikely to impact National in any structural sense.
The party has never looked like winning the election, so all that it may do is knock a few more points off its ultimate share of the vote.
Besides that, Judith Collins and her confidantes might regard Goldsmith as expendable anyway.
It’s often seems she has more enthusiasm for Andrew Bayley as a finance spokesperson.
And reports of loud rows last week within the inner circle over Goldsmith’s insistence that the party stick to his rigorous debt target of 30 per cent only to see that moved out to 35 per cent suggest that his influence is waning.
But longer-term, the real threat to National is the surge in support for other parties on the centre-right of politics.
ACT is clearly attracting support that might otherwise have gone to National, and there are some suggestions it could be polling as high as eight per cent.
And the New Conservatives are also on a roll.
They held a series of meetings in Auckland over the weekend and easily reached Covid-19 capacity of 50 people at all of them. In a meeting in Kelston they spit their audience into three rooms of 50 to accommodate the numbers.
Party Leader, Leighton Baker, told POLITIK the party was getting substantial donations from supporters and that numbers willing to help with the campaign were substantially greater than previous years.
The party’s billboards are everywhere — in cities and along main highways.
The party appears to have found a space for itself on the centre right where it joins ACT as a home for disillusioned National voters.
While ACT focuses on neo-liberal economic policies; the New Conservatives are culture warriors.
They are campaigning hard against the euthanasia referendum; the way sex education is being introduced into schools and then into Trump-style right-wing issues like the United Nations, immigration and opposition to the Emissions Trading Scheme and the Zero Carbon Act.
But their big theme is democracy.
Speaking at a meeting in Albany yesterday, party leader Leighton Baker, said MPs were elected to Parliament to represent voters.
That was why the party supported binding Citizens Initiated Referenda.
“I hope that our representatives that are clipping the ticket and taking the pay from us would actually listen to us and do what we instruct them,” he said.
“The way I see Citizens Initiated Referenda being used is instead of any conscience votes because I don’t believe that those MPs have been elected to use their consciences.
“They have been elected to represent us and seeing as their consciences seem to be different to the rest of the nation I would suggest that any conscience vote should go to a referendum.”
This policy is also that of New Zealand First who have long argued for referenda on conscience issues.
NZ First MP, Darroch Ball, speaking on Magictalk in August said New Zealand First’s decision to seek a referendum for conscience votes was about giving people the chance to have a direct and meaningful say in their country’s future.
“What beggars belief is the fact that we have MPs that would argue against giving the people of New Zealand that rare chance to have their say,” he said.
This populist streak runs through much of the arguments put forward by the New Conservatives.
Baker was critical of the recent gun laws saying they were making criminals out of law-abiding people and he was particularly critical of discussion about gender identity in schools claiming that the Government was forcing its ideology on people.
“This has been done without parents even knowing,” he said.
“You’re not told that what they are being taught.”
He said Year Ten at schools were being taught about masturbation and different forms of sex.
“We do not want to go there,” he said.
Baker is, however passionate about reforming the justice system and wants more education for prison inmates and also instruction on how to manage relationships.
The party obviously aims its policies at the less affluent and would allow the first $20,000 of income to be tax-free and also allow income splitting between husband and wife.
Baker said he was interested in replacing income tax and GST with a financial transactions tax — a policy once promoted by the late Jim Anderton and the Alliance.
The party takes a hard line on climate change and would abolish the Emissions Trading Scheme, repeal the Zero Carbon Act and withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord.
It would also seek to defund the United Nations.
“The UN should actually just be a forum with the leaders of the world, get together and talk and discuss to avoid conflict,” said Baker.
“It shouldn’t be forcing one set of views or opinions on anyone.”
Number Nine on the New Conservative list is a well known anti-UN campaigner Dieuwe DeBoer from the Right Minds movement which ran the campaign against the UN Compact on Migration in 2018.
National succumbed to that campaign and announced its opposition to the Compact.
The worry now for National must be that if NZ First fails to make it back to Parliament; if the Billy Te Kiha – Jami-Lee Ross Advance Party gets some support and if the New Conservatives continue their surge, then the foundations are there for a populist right-wing party.
What seems possible is that the centre-right space in New Zealand politics, which only a year ago National was beginning to believe it could have to itself is now becoming more contested by ACT and by the populists.
That is one of the potential implications of a lacklustre showing by National at the polls on October 17.
And after the events yesterday, that lacklustre showing looks even more possible.
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