Latest political polling puts Labour at 60.9%, which – if carried through to the election – would give it 77 seats in the next Parliament. Is anyone (apart from the most fervent National supporter) surprised?
National’s campaign manager, Gerry Brownlee, dismisses the Newshub Reid Research sampling as a “rogue” poll. This begs the question whether he would have done so, if it had shown his own party a bit higher than 25.1%.
Other polls (even one suspects National’s own private polling) have had Labour above the 50% mark.
With the Covid-19 pandemic raging around the world, New Zealanders are comforted their government has got it right: they only have to look as far as Victoria to see what happens when the governing authorities make a mess of it.
In NZ, even where the economic downside is causing individual hardship, there is still relief the government has eliminated community transmission, and crowds can cheer on their Super Rugby Aotearoa heroes, in person, or for that matter that other hero Ashley Bloomfield turning out in the 25th annual parliamentary rugby game.
When Jacinda Ardern is being touted as a front-runner for the Nobel Peace prize, winning international recognition for her leadership in combating the Covid-19 threat, she has reached a pinnacle few other NZ prime ministers have done. There may have been blips on issues like border control, but Ardern’s performance through the crisis has been impeccable, in the eyes of the majority of New Zealanders. Who cares about the failures of KiwiBuild or other “transformatory” promises when NZ is purged of the fear that Covid-19 would carry off thousands of NZers?
By comparison, what could National expect, after throwing overboard a couple of leaders, (and seeing also a procession of lower-ranked MPs jumping ship or being made to walk the plank?
The Dominion-Post’s political editor Luke Malpass headed up his analysis of the poll: “Scandals peel scab off brand”.
Maybe a bit harsh, when you consider Labour has had its own scandals, including Iain Lees-Galloway taking his Workplace Relations role a step too far. But the electorate in the euphoria it feels from escaping what Covid-19 is inflicting on other countries discounts those as mere peccadilloes.
The problem for National goes much deeper. And it might take more than Judith Collins can bring to the task if the party is to be pulled up to where it was just a few months ago.
Certainly claiming to be better managers of the economy won’t do the trick, especially if NZ under Ardern is doing as well, if not better, than other countries.
There is little evidence that since National lost the Treasury benches in 2017, it has been working on refreshing its policy platform, finding new ideas which appeal to a broad spectrum of voters.
Anyone familiar with previous periods when National was cast into opposition would be aware of how backbenchers would be formed into teams to flesh out new policy ideas and frame a programme on which the party as a broad church would bring in new converts.
It’s as if the party has been unable to get over its disbelief it could somehow be deprived of its rightful place on the other side of the House.
Even as Covid-19 has turned the world upside down, National has been slow to adapt to the challenge of being in a very different place from where it was in 2017 when it lost office.
Finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith says:
“National has a plan to deal with the economic and jobs crisis, and give businesses the confidence to invest and grow to create more jobs”.
But the specifics remain a mystery.
National’s support base, particularly in the regions, would be eager to hear how National in government would infuse the primary industries with the backing of new ideas, in recognition of the hard truth that without overseas tourists and international education, it is the country’s food producers who are left to earn the bulk of the country’s foreign exchange receipts.
Few may be aware even of the name of the party’s agriculture flag-bearer, let alone of the policies which would lead to a surge in production. Yet with the government’s negativity, showing through on issues like so-called “dirty dairying”, and gene editing, National has had the chance to re-assert its traditional role as champion of the rural regions.
Should the Newshub Reid Research poll, ( taken over the period when National was floundering in the rough headlines over its leadership, and the shenanigans of best-forgotten backbenchers) , prove to be a “rogue”, the party will nevertheless have to find a way to convince voters it can govern more effectively than Ardern.