Tova O'Brien: Coronavirus potential 'game-changer' in election year

OPINION: Coronavirus is a potential game-changer in election year that could have an impact on the election campaign and even the result.

A national or international crisis like coronavirus can have a galvanising effect behind a Government or Prime Minister - but it depends entirely on how it's handled.

And when it comes to crises that affect the economy, Labour-led Governments in New Zealand have a huge handicap. There is a perception - fair or otherwise - that Labour is a poor economic manager and that National does it better.

National leaders John Key and Bill English's economic stewardship after the global financial crisis entrenched that view, making it even harder for Labour Finance Ministers to shake it off.

Current Labour Minister of Finance Grant Robertson would be the first to admit that. It's his perennial bugbear.

So as the concerns about the economic impact of coronavirus spread, Labour will want to push the fact that it is in power, that it's already providing stability and support, that National leader Simon Bridges and his Finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith are an unknown entity.

But the way National will see this is that any talk about a slowing economy, about job losses, about queues for food or supplies - that will play into its hands and it's dead right. Politically an economic crisis, or even sustained talk about the economy, is a boon for National.

Any 'strong and stable' approach or rhetoric from Labour could also be undermined by the thing that makes it least strong and stable - its coalition partner, NZ First.

It's another potential game-changer in election year and the cracks in the relationship between NZ First and Labour are starting to show.

NZ First minister Shane Jones has finally tipped the Prime Minister over the edge.

After countless incendiary comments from Jones about immigration - many of them labelled racist by people in migrant communities - he's gone too far for Jacinda Ardern.

His latest outburst was on Newshub Nation over the weekend when he said students from India have ruined educational institutions in NZ.

It's finally forced Ardern to act, saying at her post-cabinet press conference today: "I totally disagree with Shane Jones - I will be telling him that.

"And I will also be asking him to reconsider the way that he talks about these issues in the future because I do not believe it is good for New Zealand."

Until now Ardern's just joked about similar comments from Jones and tried to distance herself and Labour from him and NZ First - but seven months out we are starting to see those divisions as we head towards Decision 2020.

Tova O'Brien is Newshub's Political Editor