Until 1 August, National was sleepwalking towards a fourth term in government. Four terms is unusual.
Suddenly it all changed. The old cliche - a week is a long time in politics is certainly true.
Andrew Little just didn’t cut it. He needed a charisma bypass. He resigned and Jacinda Ardern became the Labour Party leader. Jacinda mania was almost instantaneous.
The latest One News Colmar Brunton Poll (17 August) was sensational. National had fallen to 44%, but Labour had risen spectacularly to 37%. NZ First was on 10%, and looked odds-on to become the king or queen maker on 23 September. The big surprise was the Green plummet to just 4.3%. If that were to continue until election day, the Greens would be out of parliament altogether.
But the latest UMR Poll (20 August) says National 40%, Labour 37%, NZ First 9% and the Greens 8% - the first sign of a reprieve for the Greens, and a guarantee it will be a very close election, but with Winston Peters still the likely king maker.
The Green implosion was caused by Metiria Turei’s admission of benefit fraud as a young solo mother that rebounded on her and the Green Party. She was perceived by some as condoning fraud, and was also said to have been smug and not at all contrite over her past behaviour.
Interestingly, Auckland Central could potentially have three excellent MPs if constituents use their votes strategically; the exciting new Labour candidate, barrister Helen White, and the veteran and valuable Green candidate Denise Roche could make it in to parliament. Nikki Kaye is a shoe-in.
So, where will the polls take us in the next few weeks, and will National get a fourth term?
My guess is that if Jacinda Ardern can master the details of the majority of Labour policies, Labour will rise further, National members will increasingly look like part of a tired old Government, and will fall. Labour has the momentum. It could be 40% all in the next week or two.
Why would National be under threat? There is an operating surplus, terms of trade have never been better, New Zealand is respected world-wide, we have experienced ministers in the English cabinet, and English himself is widely respected for his financial management of the New Zealand economy. They are hinting at further tax cuts.
And that is at the heart of National’s problem. The first thing John Key did when National won in 2008 was to reduce tax for the wealthy and increase GST for everyone. That move he described as "fiscally neutral". Not for the poor it wasn’t.
What it did was to increase the already huge inequality gap in New Zealand, and little that National has done since has addressed that inequality. New Zealand is now firmly entrenched in the top three or four most unequal developed countries.
That internal inequality, measured by comparing the top 20% with the bottom 20% for income and wealth, is now the topic of debate by some of the world’s leading writers and academics.
Joseph Stiglitz, a former Nobel Prize winner in economics, and
a former chief economist at the World Bank, says categorically that “inequality is not inevitable.” It is a choice we make with the rules that govern our economy. In his book 'The Price of Inequality’ he bemoans the obscene levels of income of the top 1% (now 243 times the average wage).
In New Zealand the top 1% own 22% of the country’s total wealth.
Wilkinson and Pickett, in their book 'The Spirit Level', showed how social deprivation was worse in countries with a high level of internal inequality. New Zealand featured poorly in that analysis.
Their 2009 book makes sad reading where New Zealand is compared with a range of other developed nations. The only two countries which fare worse overall than New Zealand in terms of bad social outcomes are the UK and the US.
Here are just three examples from 'The Spirit Level'.
Imprisonment - only US, Singapore and Israel have higher levels of incarceration than New Zealand.
Mental illness - only US, UK and Australia have a higher level of anxiety, depression, addictions, and other psychological disorders than New Zealand.
Teenage births - only the UK and the US have a higher level of teen births than New Zealand.
Every New Zealander should read 'The Spirit Level', and take action for our children, our poor, our dispossessed and our elderly.
National has abandoned the long New Zealand tradition of housing our less privileged, and are selling off state houses. They intend to set up boot camps for young disaffected youth while suicide is at epidemic levels. National are pandering to the 1% and groups like the sensible sentencing right wingers, and they continue to call the underprivileged ‘losers’. Financial measurements are their only point of reference.
All this started with Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson implementing the neo-liberalism promoted by the Chicago School of Economics led by Milton Friedman, who insisted the market was always right, that government should take its hands off the economy and privatise everything it could. Rogernomics and Ruthenasia pushed neo-liberalism in New Zealand and we are still saddled with much of this philosophy - pursued by the current National Government.
Cut taxes even further for the rich, sell off remaining assets, hound beneficiaries, sell state houses, and privatise prisons and schools, are all still National Party policies.
Former NZ Court of Appeal Judge, The Rt Hon Sir Edmund Thomas, has said that New Zealand will never again be a fair and just society until we rid ourselves of the last vestiges of neo-liberalism.
That is why Labour, the Greens and other progressive politicians must band together to deny National a fourth term and guarantee New Zealanders a more equal and caring society.
You have a choice - What sort of society do you want New Zealand to be?
Right now, the 2017 election is too close to call, but a change of government is a real possibility. (JOHN ELLIOTT)