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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Prebble and McCarten

Rod Emerson's cartoon from the NZ Herald today.
The return of two old political battle axes - Richard Prebble and Matt McCarten - to the political fray this year will certainly make things more interesting.

Prebble is a tireless campaigner. But will he be tireless enough now to save Act, the party he lead for 8 years? He certainly brings some continuity and a much-needed credibility boost for the party which has languished since the demise of Rodney Hide.

The big question is whether Prebble's still got it in him. He probably does, but Act may be too far gone to be rescued, deal in Epsom or not. Look out for a strong campaign by Act, which might just get them back into parliament. Whether it leads to a long-term recovery is yet to be seen. There is certainly some disenchantment amongst economic purists on the right that the John Key led government has been a moderate, centre-right one, with an emphasis on the centre (and even some dalliances left). Witness Act's new leader Jamie Whyte's recent criticism that the government's share-offer plan wasn't the sort of full-blown privatisation Act wants. Is that enough though to differentiate the two parties? Time will tell.

Matt McCarten's appointment as Labour's chief of staff is a similar line call. McCarten is certainly to the hard left, and seeks a much more economically interventionist line from Labour. While some have speculated this is an indication David Cunliffe wants to take out his caucus rivals, I think McCaretn's appointment is more of an opening salvo aimed at the Greens. Remember, McCarten left Labour to go to NewLabour in '89 because he wanted the party to go back to its interventionist past. As the Alliance, which NewLabour formed a key part of, collapsed in the early 2000s McCarten moved through a succession of parties, until finally ending up again with Labour.

Given Cunliffe's recent comments that he thinks Labour could win in 2017 (implying he doesn't think they can in 2014) it stands to reason that McCarten's appointment is part of a wider strategy by Labour to take more of the left voters back off the Greens (particularly those who used to vote Labour under Helen Clark), and then shift them towards the centre, in the process taking back the precious centre ground National has held since John Key became leader. Again, like Prebble's appointment to Act, only time will tell if this strategy works...