Labour loser as bold plans fail to add up

The ground has started to subtly change around the election campaign and National is the beneficiary.

Prime Minister Helen Clark launched Labour's campaign with a flourish and took the moral high ground on issues surrounding the current global financial crisis.

Hers was a plan to cope with the times.

The Government introduced a bank deposit guarantee scheme, thereby easing the minds of hundreds of thousands of people starting to panic about their money invested in Australian-owned but New Zealand-registered banks.

Credit unions and building societies were also safe, and some finance companies would have their deposits guaranteed.

A bold plan to bring forward infrastructure spending and create jobs at a time when unemployment was expected to rise was also revealed by Miss Clark.

The fact that National Party deputy leader Bill English issued statement after statement asking how Miss Clark would pay for the estimated $1.3 billion of unfunded promises escaped the wider group of voters.

It appeared as though Labour was heading on a road to possible victory rather than one of certain defeat as National continued to hover around 51% in the opinion polls compared to Labour lurking around 33%.

What a difference a week makes.

This column predicted some bold promises would be made on Sunday, thinking particularly of Labour as it continued its spending momentum.

But that momentum stalled when Miss Clark at a Wellington rally ruled out making any more spending promises during the campaign.

She went back to the issue of trust and leadership and how Mr Key, who made his estimated $50 million fortune on Wall Street, did not have the experience to lead New Zealand during times of global economic upheaval.

Across town, at Parliament, Mr Key used his merchant banking experience and finally found the edge he had been searching for on the economy.

He said he was prepared to work in a bipartisan arrangement with Labour to find any "sensible" measures to protect the New Zealand economy.

He wanted the Government to consider moves being made in Australia on interbank bank deposit guarantees to stop New Zealanders shifting their cash offshore, making it harder and more expensive for borrowers here to access funds.

Mr Key had previously said he favoured a bank deposit scheme but decided that if he had come out with the proposal two weeks ago, he could have caused a run on bank funds if voters decided that his finance industry experience meant he knew something they did not.

Coming out with the policy before the Government could have laid him open to claims of scaremongering and of damaging the economy.

Instead, he stayed quiet while his deputy worked away in the background to convince the Government that National was serious in its offer to help.

Now it appears as though Labour has run out of steam for policy announcements.

It has been openly criticised by the Greens and New Zealand First for stealing their policies.

By announcing a move towards a universal student allowance at the start of the campaign, Miss Clark took away a trump card Labour usually leaves until last.

Students busily ensconced in their exams will probably only vaguely remember what the thresholds are and when they come in.

Their parents will not be thinking too much about the allowances until the start of the next university year, months after the election has been held.

Yesterday, National quietly got on with pushing the buttons it believes will help stabilise its voter support - law and order and elderly care.

Mr Key promised to boost police numbers by 600 if his party won the election, with 300 extra frontline officers going to South Auckland.

National would spend $18.5 million a year to hire 600 extra officers before the end of 2011.

Of those, 220 would be over and above the Labour Government's planned recruitment programme.

Health spokesman Tony Ryall said National would increase access to respite care for those caring for aged family members, increasing support for dedicated respite beds by $5 million a year, funded from within the health sector indicative spending allocation outlined in the Pre-Election Fiscal Update.

National also wanted to spend an additional $18 million a year to help rest-homes.

Other policies directed at key voter groups - youth, students and business groups - are likely to follow in the remaining days.

If Mr Key can hold his nerve, it will be Labour which has to start releasing catch-policies.

dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz

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