Hard News by Russell Brown

65

Some actual politics

Colin James ponders in today's Herald whether the impending Budget will mark the start of a move by Labour to haul itself out of its slump. It's a reasonable question in a year where, um, Clayton Cosgrove has a claim as the party's best performing MP - or, rather, the only one without a tin ear. (It would be fair to assume that Phil Goff is putting in his usual exemplary performance, but I am unable to verify that he actually exists.)

James predicts that it will take long enough for the public to discover that the Child Discipline Bill will not actually cause the sky to fall that National will still be able to use it for purposes of correction in next year's general election. He may be right, but I think in the end thecourage the government has shown in standing behind Sue Bradford's bill trumps the godawful impact on public opinion.

But, like James says, when you've already got one hard sell, why would you sally forth with a proposal for public funding of election campaigns when you don't even have the votes locked in to make it law?

The charm offensive has already begun. Helen Clark had a friendly chat with Jim Mora last week; Cullen signals not just more money for tertiary education but an overdue move away from blanket bums-on-seats funding; the Budget will actually put some detail on grand undertakings about sustainability; Chris Carter lifts the lid on a shared equity scheme to help first home buyers.

Whoever thought of reshaping the idea of a cross-party summit on monetary policy into a select committee inquiry presumably gets the chocolate fish this week. Labour will have the votes to define such an inquiry fairly tightly and avoid the three-ring circus National would have liked - and, although the Prime Minister was scrupulously downplaying its prospects of success yesterday, it will have the effect of making monetary policy an issue for all parties. At best, it might even provide a platform for Shane Jones, as the chair of the finance and expenditure select committee

And quite apart from the politics, on this issue, it really is time to pull together.

Labour's legislative programme has been amazingly thin this year, meaning it hasn't had much else to do but react, and often not very smartly. National will hang on towhat No Right Turn characterised as its strategic emptiness - so ably personified by John Key - for as long as it can, but there will come a point where it, in turn, will have to react. Perhaps that's happening already. Key's announcement that Working for Families will have to be hauled back to permit tax cuts if it wins in 2008 is perfectly rational, but it also means National actually doing something that might be targeted by its critics. And DPF might have to find something more important to blog about than this.

I don't know about you, but I've felt weirdly switched off from politics this year. It has seemed petty and irrelevant, at a time when important challenges face us. But maybe, as the year progresses, we will finally get back to arguing about the good of the country and away from migraine-inducing arguments about the right to smack lest the sky fall. That would be good.

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