National's first move of the 2018 political year is to put local pressure on the government over nine roading projects that were a result of the last government.
It's a move that picks up on an idea I suggested back in October 2017, whereby MPs use local petitions in a move to both bolster their local political standing and force the government to expend political capital, especially in regional New Zealand, in order to either change or ditch those projects.
At an electorate level it's a good move. Many of these projects enjoy significant local support, and are largely in areas where National did well in the party vote. In a way, National is somewhat forced into defending them regardless of whether they were actually needed, because to let them be turfed without a fight could be seen as turning their back on legacy projects of the National government.
Likewise, it gives the local National MP a chance to attack the government and keep their supporters politically engaged while the new government, presumably, steadies itself after a bumpy start last year.
From the other perspective, the government is able to take the edge off these petitions. Without wanting to rush any review process, if the government is able to provide a clearer picture and timeline about the future of transport projects, especially if that future involves pursuing an alternative project in that area, they'll be able to fend off the worst of the pressure.
Much of the heat that the government will take at the local level will be from the future uncertainty generated by the review. While there will be some resentment over changes to previously announced projects, and undoubtedly a group of people not believing any changed project would actually be delivered, being able to speak to an alternative transport solution will help the government greatly.
None of this is to say some of the roading projects National had planned don't have merit, or that some of them are unnecessary or uneconomic, but I'll leave that to other commentators to analyse.
The real aims for National out of this exercise should be as follows:
- force the government to expend political capital defending the reviews and changes,
- keep the morale up of supporters in the regions in the short term,
- grow their database of supporter contact details and policy interest areas,
- and, once the government has inevitably made decisions and changes to those projects, work towards a new, more balanced 21st century transport policy to take into the 2020 election.