This is not the post-election Goldsmith Update I had hoped to write. I had hoped to be writing about the opportunity to work with our fine leader Bill English to build on the success this country has enjoyed these past few years, continuing to grow the economy and address long-standing social issues.
Instead we have to watch the new government installed, a strange combination of Donald Trump – hostile to free trade and immigrants – and Jeremy Corbyn – apparently convinced that capitalism has failed.
For the good of the country, I hope their rhetoric is just that, and the government proves sensible. Time will tell. We will work hard to hold them to account.
Opposition is also a time to think and to listen. I’ll be using these years in the wilderness to prepare for our return to government.
The core challenge is timeless, but needs to be re-thought regularly – how to maintain and improve on our international competitiveness. Some members of the new government appear to take our relative prosperity for granted. Everyone, it is asserted, deserves higher incomes. Those higher incomes, of course, first have to be generated in a competitive world.
Second, the long term challenge of helping people off welfare and into work has to remain a focus. In government we made real progress, such as the huge drop in the numbers of children being raised in benefit-dependent households. I fear many of these gains will be lost if the Greens’ belief in ‘no-questions-asked, long-as-you-like’ welfare predominates.
Thirdly, in Opposition we should think creatively about how we can do more to help those outside the property markets to feel they can gain a stake in society, particularly the younger generation. Historically low interest rates have led to asset-price inflation all over the world – increasing wealth inequality (as opposed to income inequality). We’re dealing with massive international forces, exacerbated by self-defeating local factors which artificially raise the cost of new housing. We’ll support proposals from the new government that will help, oppose those that won’t, and take the time to develop fresh thinking.
Finally, it is a particular frustration of politics that one can spend 10 months as a Minister getting your head around complex areas of policy – in my case tertiary education and science and innovation – only to find the rug pulled out from under your feet. If I am asked to be the Opposition spokesperson in this area I’ll fight for balanced investment in these sectors. In the tertiary sector particularly we need to recognise if more and more money goes to student support there is a real risk, in a world where tough trade-offs always have to be made, that little will be left to maintain the international quality of the institutions themselves.
In Epsom, I want to thank the nearly 60% of Epsom voters who again put their trust in National. I do have to acknowledge, however, our party vote retreated a little in the seat, as it did in inner-urban seats around the country. It shall be my mission to reclaim that support over the next three years.
I remain absolutely committed to the communities of our electorate and will continue to ensure that the concerns of this part of Auckland are heard in the National caucus and in the parliament.
There are many conversations to be had over the coming months and years. I do look forward to hearing your views.