National is haunted by a nightmare; the possibility that this election could turn out to be a repeat of 2005.
That was when National almost won.
Ultimately Don Brash came within two per cent of unseating the Helen Clark -led Labour Government.
National had made a convincing case for change, but when it came to the crunch, Brash’s lack of political experience set against the dependable Clark was seen as too big a risk by the electorate.
And that is the way Labour hopes this election plays out.
The weekend’s National Party conference might encourage them in that view.
Some themes were eerily reminiscent of Don Brash’s speech to the party’s 2005 conference.
Central to Finance spokesperson Nicola Willis’s promise to cut taxes is that she would pay for the cuts by addressing government waste.
“We will stop wasteful spending, move resources to the front line, and get the books in order,” she said in her keynote speech to the conference.
Brash in 2005: “The budgets and the bureaucracies keep getting bigger, especially for the spin merchants; and the exotically named programmes, the slogans and the straplines are all there.”
And then Willis addressed what is likely to be National’s main election theme.
“Across the country, families, superannuitants, and workers are feeling hardship in a way they’ve never experienced before. I thank everyone who has been brave enough to share their situation with me,” she said.
“Your cost-of-living stories have humbled me and made me so very determined to win this election.”
Brash in 2005: “Middle New Zealand – hard-working average income families – know that the serious issues confronting them in their daily lives are just not being addressed.”
Brash also talked about education.
“Mainstream New Zealanders have some fairly basic, but non-negotiable, expectations of their government,” he said.
“They expect to send their kids to school, to have them taught to read and write, and to have their performance measured by an assessment system that is fair and meaningful.”
One of the three remits selected for discussion at the weekend conference, a debate on a remit to increase immigration turned into a debate on education.
Debated at the conference came from the party’s Pasifika group, the Pacific Blues and called for designated funding for children at schools who were not meeting accepted curriculum levels in numeracy and literacy.
“We have a broken education system, and the education system is failing our kids, parents and country,” said delegate Dr Ruby Schaumkel.
“We need to restore education like we do our economy and law and order.”
Behind the education debate was a concern about a lack of skilled workers, which one remit wanted to be addressed with more immigration.
Moving the remit, Shane Drury suggested immigration brought more than economic benefits.
“We need people who can bring new ideas, new perspectives and new ways of thinking to the table,” Curry said.
“The benefits of increasing immigration numbers are numerous.
“ It would not only help to address the labour shortages that we are currently facing in various fields, but it would also contribute to the diversity of our society.
“It is important that we embrace diversity and as it is one of the greatest strengths as a nation.”
But there were tensions evident within the conference.
An Indian delegate said the remit was all very well, but it has been National who had ended the right of immigrants to bring their families in, which was important to Asians.
And another delegate, speaking to a remit which would have eased the way for more nursing and doctor immigrants, said New Zealand needed to produce its own because it needed people who understood its cultures.
But perhaps the move most resonant of Brashin 2005 was the hardline approach to law and order promoted by Luxon in his keynote speech yesterday.
Delegates had been warmed up with a series of crime horror stories from Police spokesperson Mark Mitchell.
He told of one attack on a dairy owner.
“There’s blood splattered all over the place, and the offenders attacked him with a machete, and in defending himself, he lost his fingers and ended up in hospital,” he said.
“The worst thing about that is that we got to call a week later to say it was his wife.; they were expecting their first child and had lost the baby.”
There was a collective groan and “Orrh” from the delegates, precisely the reaction that Mitchell and Luxon will want from the wider electorate when they take stories like this on the road during the election campaign.
Like Brash in 2005, Luxon is out after hardline social conservatives.
He is proposing to rewrite the sentencing Act to limit a maximum sentence discount to 40 per cent, which would mean the final sentence could not be reduced by more than 40 per cent from the sentence starting point.
And National would introduce what it calls a “use-it-and-lose-it” rule that would prevent repeat offenders from receiving sentence discounts for youth or remorse more than once.
But what Brash found in 2005 is that a hardline on social issues or persistent complaints about the cost of living was not enough; that politics is also about the relationship that a politician can develop with the electorate.
That is now the challenge for Luxon.