NZ Election 2020: Labour and National failing to 'step up' and offer solutions - expert

Neither of the big parties is doing enough to convince Kiwis they're the best choice to tackle the big issues facing the country, a political academic has claimed.

Bryce Edwards of Victoria University says Labour has pinned its hopes on leader Jacinda Ardern's personal popularity and not scaring off the middle, while National just wants to build roads everywhere. 

"Elections really do have to be about policy to some extent. They can't just be about the leaders, they can't just be about their management styles," he told The AM Show on Monday.

"We need to have a big debate about those big issues - inequality, housing affordability, the climate change problem - and none of the parties are stepping up to that challenge."

The lack of policy being offered by the major parties will favour Labour, Dr Edwards said.

"For Labour it's quite easy because they're well up in the polls and they don't want this really to be about policy - they want it to be about Jacinda Ardern. That's their winning formula. They want it to be about the achievements they've made in the last few months, in terms of saving New Zealand. 

"You know, that's an important thing, but we are going into a big crisis economically. We are having some big problems this Government hasn't dealt with."

National have traditionally positioned themselves as being better with the economy than other parties. Though that's debatable, Dr Edwards says the party's lack of vision this election campaign isn't.

"They have only really come up with roads and infrastructure as their answer, and that's not enough."

Bryce Edwards.
Bryce Edwards. Photo credit: The AM Show

The problem is National has had a horror year - they started out in a strong position, but since then have lost nearly half their support in the polls, changed leaders twice and had more than a dozen MPs either quit in disgrace or signal their intention to leave politics. 

"I think really National are hamstrung by their own internal problems. They're on the backfoot every time they have to deal with problems in their own party. 

"They just haven't really got the feeling of momentum. It's a real problem when you have poll after poll coming out that's just showing this is going to be a landslide for Labour. National just doesn't have the confidence."

Neither party has signalled they'll be raising taxes to pay back the $50 billion borrowed to get the country through the biggest economic crisis in nearly a century. National's ruled it out, while Labour has steadfastly refused to reveal even the slightest hint of a policy. Ardern wouldn't even give her personal view when asked on Monday morning, fearing it would be interpreted as Labour party policy.

"I think there's more of an appetite for tax increases at the moment. But even Labour or National aren't willing to say where they're going to raise the money to pay back all of this debt, and pay for the economic transformation that's required. It's only the Greens and ACT that are really willing to have that conversation unfortunately." 

The minor parties are struggling though - the Greens are on a knife-edge, straddling the 5 percent threshold in recent polls, while New Zealand First are well off the pace. 

Only ACT is outperforming its polling at the last election, possibly reaching the 5 percent threshold for the first time 2002. That year National's vote collapsed to 21 percent, and something similar could happen this election, Dr Edwards said, as right-wing voters look for a more effective Opposition.

Some Labour supporters might even look at giving the Greens their party vote, he suggested, since Labour seem determined to stick to the middle. 

"This is a deliberate strategy from Labour- they're hugging the centre. They are taking on National Party policy to keep those National Party voters that have decided to shift over in the last few months. Labour's very very deliberately choosing not to put out any left-wing policy so it doesn't lose any of those traditional National voters." 

Dr Edwards said it would be sad to see the minor parties go, possibly letting Labour lead the first single-party MMP Government in New Zealand's history with a conservative, centrist platform. 

"I think we're better in a democracy when you've got a clear left-wing party, a clear right-wing party and they're actually putting forward policy manifestos about changing the world - or keeping it the same - dealing with climate change, inequality. Instead they're just wanting to have slogans... I don't think that's going to inspire people in this election. I think we could see voter turnout go down."

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