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Bill Ralston: Simon Bridges needs to find another issue to fight – and fast

National Party leader Simon Bridges. Photo/Getty Images

With the capital gains tax and KiwiBuild in pieces, the National Party needs some killer propositions.

National Party leader Simon Bridges must have spent Easter locked in a small, dark room, sobbing that Winston Peters has, once again, undercut him by vetoing the Government’s attempt to impose a capital gains tax. What was proposed by the Tax Working Group was probably the most draconian such tax in the world, and opposition to it would have provided him with a standard around which, if the polls were right, most Kiwis would have rallied.

Now, Bridges has to find another issue on which to fight. There aren’t a lot around at the moment, so he needs some killer propositions fast. For some reason, the pundits claim that if the party’s poll rating drops into the thirties, he will be toast with his caucus.

Labour did an effective job of putting a PR gloss on what was a resounding defeat of the capital gains tax. The Prime Minister explained that she had listened to the negative views of the majority. When that didn’t seem to work as well as it might, the Government pointed the finger at Peters and New Zealand First for putting the kibosh on the tax.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

After 18 months, and with about $2 million having been spent on the working group, the proposal is dead and Jacinda Ardern says it will stay so while she is prime minister. However, this may not be as ironclad as it sounds.

There is nothing to stop Ardern stepping aside as prime minister some time after the next election, returning to the backbench and spending more time with partner Clarke Gayford and their baby. A new leader may resurrect the tax, but that could come too late for the survival of National’s current leader.

The prospect of Judith Collins rising to the top of National does not fill me with joy. To date, she has had a chequered career and there’s no reason to suppose that dark pattern will not continue should she become leader and, God forbid, prime minister.

Labour’s biggest problem is that its two core policy planks – the long-talked-about capital gains tax and the near-stillborn KiwiBuild – appear to be resounding failures.

Ardern may be a great communicator and salesperson for the Government, but, come the next election in 18 months, what will she have to sell to her supporters?

National may do her a favour and put Collins in charge. The left would recoil in horror and grudgingly give their votes to Labour.

At present, though, Labour looks becalmed and out of ideas. The political cycle of almost the last century has been Labour comes to power with a radical restructuring of society, then National follows and maintains the status quo.

A status-quo Labour-led government, therefore, seems a little odd. The last one was Labour 1972-75, and it wasn’t long before National under Robert Muldoon romped into power for the next nine years.

Mention of Muldoon brings to mind Collins: both combative political personalities, both conservative, both ruthless.

Dear Lord, no. I’ve lived through that once before.

The Greens might be Labour’s only saviour if NZ First fails to summon 5% support in 2020.

With the Green component of the old Alliance hard-core left and Peters gone, the capital gains tax might be resurrected, with or without Ardern.

This article was first published in the May 4, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.