If Little craves a lesson in political risk management – he need look no further than across the aisle in Parliament.
National under John Key has become so risk-averse at times – it seems it is turning away dangers that haven’t even arrived at the door yet.
A case in point is its decision to delay for two months the report back of health and safety reform this week (just as a new poll put the party on 54 per cent – more than twice Labour’s enfeebled support).
There are serious concerns and hence divisions inside National’s caucus about the issue. Do they gut the full suite of recommendations – and risk a backlash because they appear to ignore the lessons of 29 fatalities at Pike River? Or do they blast ahead and face the wrath of their farmer and small business backers who believe the changes would not only be onerous but create absurd compliance issues. Cue – farmers’ responsibility for members of the public hiking and hunting on their land.
Even the watering down of the law by National MPs on the select committee has not satisfied all – so if the party’s own and health and safety is in danger then it’s back to the policy coal face.
But the health and safety bill is just one example of National’s risk aversion.
The signal one was the Budget’s much-discussed $25 benefit boost to families with children.
On one level it was an acceptance of obvious need. Benefits had drifted too far astern of wages and there was an urgent – and now only partially met – need to alleviate hardship. Yes, there was also enough ‘red meat’ for those opposed to any more welfare – in the shape of extra work requirements – 20 hours work – not 15 – and a cut off when their children turn three – not five.
But at the political level it met a need of a very different sort – what one very senior MP referred to as ‘buying cover’ for the next election.
Buying cover against accusations from opponents that they were not addressing poverty.
Buying cover with their middle income supporters – especially swinging female voters – that they have not done enough for those less well off.
(ed:..that rightwing-reaction to doing something about our shameful degree of workplace-deaths/injuries – that’d be that tory ‘compassionate-conservatism’ kicking in again..eh..?..)