Power Play: Mishaps of 2022 swinging the pendulum of general elections

4:22 pm on 16 December 2022
National Party leader Christopher Luxon and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon still has work to do on personal ratings Photo: RNZ

Out of something naughty came something nice, as Parliament wraps up after one hell of a year.

The political charity collab between the prime minister and ACT's David Seymour was the result of Jacinda Ardern calling him an "arrogant prick" in the House, morphing into a fundraiser for prostate cancer.

As well as a congenial end to what could have deteriorated into something else, it gave Seymour the chance to enthusiastically declare he was "standing up for pricks everywhere", with a copy of the Hansard exchange being auctioned off.

Looking at the bigger picture, 2022 rounds off with Labour behind in the polls and figuring out how to best hit election year; National has steadily taken back ground but leader Christopher Luxon still has work to do on his personal ratings, articulating his vision for what a government led by him would look like and how much influence an ACT partner could leverage.

The smaller parties, ACT, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori, have come through holding up well within their constituencies, already starting to position themselves for post-election deals, with all still to play for. New Zealand First continues to make a showing in the polls, with leader Winston Peters stirring the political pot and already ruling out a deal with this particular Labour administration.

However, it is the battle between National and Labour that will ultimately determine the shape of the next government.

Luxon is promising a "bolder" approach than his National predecessors but has a lot of policy yet to flesh out next year. He has had a few blunders including the trip to Hawaii, the clean car discount, and the rate of super; but he ends the years with his party laser-focused on the cost of living putting real pressure on the government and a shot at becoming prime minister.

In response, Labour has been busy clearing the decks of anything too controversial, or too costly. The work on co-governance looks to be shelved for now, hate speech proposals are moving forward but shy away from covering rainbow groups or the disabled, nurses and midwives are now on the immigration fast track for residency ... the list goes on.

Ministers have been told to go away over the summer and run the ruler over their portfolios to make sure everything on the election year agenda makes the grade - in terms of both the energy and political capital involved, as well as the price tag.

Labour is getting the message loud and clear their agenda has been too broad, too expensive and risks taking the focus off the basics like health, education and housing.

Labour MP Willie Jackson

Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

There has been a great deal of speculation about whether the RNZ TVNZ merger will go ahead. The opposition's interest has been fired up by a series of poor performances in the House by Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson, but the kicker was a train wreck of an interview on TVNZ's Q+A.

The timing of the first reading was mismanaged and meant a three-week delay; the select committee as a result will not report back until late January, leaving a very narrow legislative window to get it all passed before the first key date of 1 March.

The question now is whether it will even get that far, and if not - what will the alternative scenario look like?

For context, there has been uncertainty over RNZ since the 2017 election, when Labour's Clare Curran came out with RNZ Plus. That policy went the same way as her ministerial career, but the notion bubbled away, being revived by her successor Kris Faafoi. He tapped out to set himself up as a political lobbyist before the legislation even got to the House, passing the baton to Willie Jackson.

As Jackson's performance put the merger firmly in the political spotlight, National's position hardened, vowing to roll it back if elected next year.

It is on the list for projects under review, and delaying the implementation could be one of the options considered. Whatever the decision, it should be one that delivers some certainty and removes the risk of the two broadcasters becoming political footballs in the heat of election year. Labour's social insurance scheme, that has lost the backing of business, could also be on the chopping block.

Labour is responding to not only the political pressure, but grim economic predictions for 2022: recession, growing unemployment, house prices plunging while mortgage rates spiral and inflation staying higher for longer. Finance Minister Grant Robertson has strongly signalled fiscal discipline for the year ahead, which will make his job of presenting an election year Budget just that much harder.

Labour's strategy is for everyone to go away and have a good break over summer, return with a reset ministerial line-up and spending plan, and hope the electorate comes back in 2023 with a willingness to hear its pitch. National will be doing everything it can to make sure voter disillusionment with Labour is still high on people's minds as New Zealand heads into what will be another turbulent political year.

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