While all elections are important, 2011's may be a particularly significant one. National has been in power for three years now, and those three years have seen changes to tax, GST, labour laws, health funding, education funding, welfare costs, copyright law.... The most notable thing, though, is how many of these changes have been a) very public, and b) largely legislated this year. An election year. Most of them have also been highly controversial and contentious. Usually, the months before an election would not be the ideal time to be pushing through restrictive new laws like this, earthquake or not, and that National has been speaks to a huge level of confidence.
And why not? Since Helen Clark retired as leader of Labour with the last election, the party has seriously lacked a strong face. Phil Goff has been so utterly forgettable that on at least three occasions I've had to turn to Google to recall his name, including just now to make sure that he was, in fact, the person I meant, simply because it would have been incredibly embarrassing to have gotten that wrong. Many people are hard-pressed to list many of Labour's policies, though would probably do better at listing National policies that Labour oppose. Mind you, in theory Labour was opposed to the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act, and it's difficult to see exactly what benefits their arguments and negotiations got for the public. Jail time is no longer an option, and disconnection has been put on hold - but not taken off the table entirely. The bill still operates on a guilty-until-proven-innocent basis (122N assumes that "each incidence of file sharing identified in the notice constituted an infringement of the rights owner's copyright in the work identified" and that the information is correct - ie, they just assume the right's holder isn't making shit up). To the layperson, it looks as though any actual negotiation on Labour's part was done with perhaps the verbal equivalent of a wet noodle, whether that impression is correct or not.
Perhaps surprisingly I now know more people who plan to vote for the Greens than for Labour. Unfortunately, the Greens are too small and too controversial to be any real competition for National - while they determinedly stand by their principles and make a point of representing those people who traditionally have the least political power. As I write this, the second most recent post on the Greens blog is regarding a conference on Welfare and Social Sector Policy and Reform, which will cost (at a discounted rate) $895 to attend. They note that the Alternative Welfare Working Group is hosting their own conference on the subject for only $8.95, and free for beneficiaries. Skimming through the back posts reveals many such discussions about issues that other parties simply ignore, like a mandatory register for political lobbyists - issues that would create a more open government, that people would be able to trust because they could look up information that concerned them and find the answers.
None of this, of course, from either Labour or National. At this point there's barely any point in National even campaigning - neither the Greens nor Labour are a match for them. The difference is that in the latter case, it's entirely within their control.