New Zealand’s first Covid community case in many months struck just as the country has been fretting over how the government might frame its re-opening to the world after the pandemic.
The government’s response – another Alert Level Four lockdown – was announced (eventually) during a prime ministerial press conference, televised live, which dominated 6pm news programmes.
Whether this will provoke a fresh bout of Jacindamania, like that New Zealand experienced before the last election, is far from certain.
The mood of the nation has been shifting in recent months, showing the signs of tetchiness that should put any government on high alert.
Coincidentally, a new poll by UMR has pointed to Labour’s support sliding from 48% in July to 43% this month, with the Greens on 7%, down one.
On the other side of the political fence, National has risen 4 points to 28% and ACT to 13%, up 2%, but that still leaves a big gap to be closed by the centre-right parties.
The latest Covid case could again cast a shadow over the parties of the right, which might otherwise have expected their resurgence of support to continue.
Together they had moved back to within shouting range and the trend has become marked: the parties on the left have been on a steady decline while those on the right have been advancing.
Note, too, that support for the Greens consistently is higher in opinion polls between elections than is recorded on election night, a fate that also afflicts NZ First, which according to UMR in its latest sampling, is at 4.4%.
In the latest poll UMR has recorded a fall in the number who believe NZ is on the right track. It’s down from historic highs of 78% during the lockdowns last year to 62%.
Given events like the power blackout early last week, that is not surprising. Labour stalwarts may dismiss one political foul-up like that, but when there is a run of them, the cumulative effect takes its own political toll.
Though Labour back-benchers, many of them newbies, appear tolerant of ministerial fumbles, these are beginning to stack up.
Strangely, the recent problems that have thrown the government off balance have involved ministers regarded among the most capable in the Ardern team:
- Energy Minister Megan Woods, who cast herself among the fumblers with her performance (or was it non-performance?) in the power shemozzle
- Health Minister Andrew Little who blew his top with the Cancer Society (which, he said, was “off the planet”); and
- Transport Minister Michael Wood, who hatched the Auckland bridge for cyclists/ walkers (now so unpopular it has been virtually disowned by senior ministers.
Then there is the “ute tax”, which took some of the gloss off Ardern’s credibility.
Meanwhile Kris Faafoi has taken to peering skyward, as if looking for help from someone up there, as he blunders around while trying to explain the “hate speech” legislation and other esoteric measures.
And simmering beneath the surface are the really big issues within the economy – the build-up of inflationary pressures, the shortages of skilled labour, the supply chain headaches, not forgetting the looming decisions to be made on climate change.
Ministers must surely flinch, too, whenever they think of how their solutions to the problems of child poverty and homelessness have – if anything – made those problems, worse.