The kind of waffle John Key is trying to spin around the topic of tax cuts is breathtaking. There might be room for tax cuts, but he can’t promise anything, but maybe they’ll see, and Bill English saying there won’t be tax cuts was both true and untrue at the same time, like a fiscal Schroedinger’s Cat.
National seem to be running on pure instinct at the moment, and unfortunately their instincts are messed up. For six years they’ve had a brilliant strategy:
1. John Key is nice but non-committal
2. Be relentlessly negative through proxies like Cameron Slater
3. We can manage the economy, Labour can’t
3a. Tax cuts!
Unfortunately 2 has been blown to pieces by Nicky Hager, 1 is crumbling fast under relentlessly gallery demands for yes/no answers, and 3 is being torn apart by conflicting tactics.
On the one hand, Bill English has decided that the smart move is to reject the idea of tax cuts. Play the “narrow surplus” card. Get Steven Joyce to constantly emphasise that Labour are trying to spend too much money and threaten our whole economic future in the process. Downplay any suggestion of a pre-election lolly scramble. Be the sensible economic managers.
On the other, there’s a crisis developing for National. Their support is still incredibly strong, but it’s slowly slipping away, and history tells us it’s all downhill from here. They have almost no credible coalition partners on their side, and their two middle-of-the-road options come with either a Winston Peters or Tame Iti sting in the tail. They seem genuinely worried that their supporters won’t bother to show up on election day. They’re on the brink of becoming our first biggest-party-in-Opposition under MMP.
And because they’ve been working on autopilot for years, the old instinct is kicking in: promise tax cuts. Even though it completely undermines everything the Minister of Finance has been saying, even though what National really don’t need at the moment is to look cynical or desperate.
The last thing they should be doing is adding fuel to the “National are tricky” bonfire – first “talking to me just means talking to my office”, and now “when he said a package he meant a specific package, not a package.”