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John Key plays safety first as he seeks to end a decade of Labour rule in New Zealand

Key_john It's just a few months until New Zealand goes to the polls and the opposition Nationals enjoy average leads of 15% over the Labour government of Helen Clark.  The New Zealand Herald has just completed one hundred interviews and published an extended profile of Mr Key.  Fairly or unfairly it portrays a man who has journeyed to "the centre" over the last six years.  Colin James of the Herald sees risks in Mr Key's "bland ambition":

"In policy after policy he says he will keep what Clark has put in place. Yet he also says he will drive a step-change in the economy and close the wealth gap with Australia.  Where once as shadow finance minister he was keen to sell down 20 per cent of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), to spread the capitalist idea among mums and dads and smarten financial discipline, he will now keep the lot, he says - even KiwiRail!

...One is a risk for this election: that room is left for fear-mongers to scarify centrist voters about Key's "real" intentions. Given long enough in government, will he sell KiwiRail (and other SOEs), Balkanise ACC, stiffen employers' hands against employees and whittle away Working for Families and pensions? Key's fresh glow will likely blot out this short-term risk.

The second risk is for after the election if National is in power: that blandness may allow over-expectations to build of what it would do in a first term, especially to ease household financial pressures. In addition, voters may well infer from National's law and order, health and other criticisms that it can readily fix what it is criticising.

The economy is seriously unbalanced. Rebalancing will be painful. We have only just started. Large tax cuts might ease households' pain but will not make it go away. National's acceptance of most Labour programmes adds to the difficulty of dealing with the pain, let alone generating economic step-change."


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