The business community has lost confidence in the Labour Government, yet isn’t convinced that the National Party will carry out the necessary changes that they support. That’s the message from the Independent Financial Review’s triennial pre-election business survey. In many ways it mirrors the Independent’s pre-election business survey that preceded Clark’s Labour Party coming to power in 1999. That survey of employers reported that they believed the National government should be voted out and that the Labour Party was then the preferred choice of business. [Read more below]
The 2008 survey of business reported on in the Independent Financial Review today says that ‘Not one [of those surveyed] believes Clark and Cullen can survive the election’. One respondent is quoted as saying that ‘you could put up a performing chimp against Labour and the chimp would win by a landslide’. Business believe that this is a tired government, that has been too focused on ‘crackpot social issues’. The key issues for business apparently are the economy, major regulatory reform, a referendum on MMP, and the development of ‘policies to combat the recession’.
However, there is no ringing endorsement of the National Party and John Key. For business, Key is merely ‘the lesser of two evils’. Leading businesspeople note that Key has ‘failed to release policy detail on some critical areas and has so far failed to spell out a vision for New Zealand, let alone a coherent strategy for the next three years’.
The report writer, Jenni McManus, writes:
On his present performance, Key does not deserve to win, interviewees said. So far voters have seen no strong position-taking by the Opposition leader - no issue where Key might lay his body on the line. Nor are they sure Key knows exactly what National stands for. Most say it would be difficult to describe National's brand, though most make similar comments about Labour, apart from its penchant for wealth redistribution. Generally, they're not confident Key can do the job. Despite his finance and economics track-record, a vote for National will be based on hope rather than evidence of competence and charisma.
There are some similarities between this business survey and the one that came out prior to the tired National Government being replaced by Labour in 1999. At that time it was reported that business felt more positive about the election of a Labour-led government. In the survey of 30 business leaders, all but three said they were ‘resigned to – or comfortable with – a Clark-led Labour Government’.
The commercial world was losing faith in Jenny Shipley’s government and was sufficiently reassured by Labour’s business-friendly overtures that it was willing to give Labour a chance to govern. The Independent newspaper’s 1998 survey of employers reported that they believed the National government should be voted out:
Frustrated by a lack of leadership, two years of policy paralysis and inept and rudderless government, the New Zealand business community has turned its back on the National Party, and Prime Minister Jenny Shipley. Characterising the current regime as confused, inert, visionless, unstable and politically opportunistic, most of the 30 business leaders surveyed in-depth by The Independent expect an early election (McManus, 1998: p.12).
An even older change-of-government parallel is that of 1984, when another business newspaper reported that employers now favoured ditching what they perceived as a tired government for a more business-friendly one. The party leadership had carried out intense lobbying of business, indicating to them that a Labour government would be pro-business. At the same time business was growing increasingly unhappy with the economic management of Muldoon’s National Government, and the landmark 1984 National Business Review poll of business leaders revealed a majority in favour of a Labour victory (NBR, 2 Jul 1984).
Taken together, all these business political surveys show that business in New Zealand is no longer partisan in the way that it used to be. The business community sometimes prefers National and sometimes prefers Labour. At the moment Labour is out of fashion with business, but not because National is viewed as being significantly more aligned with the interests of business, but more because the incumbent government is seen as being tired.