So, yesterday afternoon Mr Key announced that the election date would be 20 September 2014, thus kicking off a proper campaign footing for all interested parties. Of course, nothing much changes – the various parties have already been at each other’s throats with such vim and vigour this year that one could be forgiven for assuming that the campaign was already well and truly underway.
However, with a date set, it seems like a good sort of time for a political junky such as myself to stop howling at the television coverage and annoying my wife, and begin howling out into the wilderness that is the interweb. Thus, it begins…
The thing that first grabbed me this morning was the almost universal reaction in the media to Key’s announcement of the election date versus the quite odd reaction of many on the Left to the announcement.
The media trumpeted the more than 6 months advance notice given to the electorate, praising Key for again not playing political games with the date, and noting Key’s jibe at Winston Peters regarding the likely length of coalition negotiations if Peters is involved. Fair enough, one might think.
However, the reaction of many at the Standard seemed to be that Key had indeed been up to political shenanigans with the date. “[C]ynical in the extreme” was Micky Savage’s strident attack, as he lambasted Key for “mucking around with constitutional norms” by picking a September date, and proclaimed that “the only reason for the earlier date is the hope that National can maintain current polling levels and the fear that over time its support will ebb”.
There are a number of issues with that assessment:
Firstly, the only “constitutional norms” that exist in New Zealand regarding picking an election date are that the date is the Prime Minister’s prerogative, tempered only by the fact that a Government’s term of power lasts but three years.
Secondly, National’s poll ratings have been sky-high ever since John Key took power. The left-right balance may have been fairly even-stevens since before the last election, but surely both National and Labour know that both of the major parties are likely to take a hit in support during an election campaign, as the minor parties are given precious oxygen by the media. The three month election campaign will take place, one way or another, and whether there is an extra one or two months before it begins hardly seems likely to have much of an effect in the meantime. (Frankly, the way that David Cunliffe has been performing, National might well have benefitted from giving him a few extra months to keep putting his foot in his mouth.)
Perhaps the more interesting question is whether Key announced the election date yesterday in order to deflect attention from National’s fundraising practices and Judith Collins’ appalling arrogance and bad judgment. After all, the wall-to-wall negative coverage for Labour following Cunliffe’s trust(s) nightmare was beginning to be replaced by questions about National’s own practices and whether the Minister of Justice was helping promote a company of which her husband is a director. Announcing an election date and making a speech about the flag may have seemed like quite a nice distraction…