Political journalists, indulging in a bit of hyperbole, reported Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as being treated to a “rapturous” reception at the Labour Party annual conference.
It’s clear she does command the adoration of not just those delegates, but also of many other New Zealanders in a manner few of her predecessors who led the Labour Party did.
But this may be blinding her to the stern reality of the current political mood, as she tells RadioNZ’s Morning Report the latest poll figures should be taken with a “grain of salt”.
The Newshub-Reid Research Poll, released on Sunday night, showed Labour at 32.3% support, far below where it stood at the last election.
How could it be? Ardern might have wondered.
In any case, she insisted to interviewers, Labour’s own polling shows it is neck-and-neck with National.
All that is needed is a spend-up by Finance Minister Grant Robertson in next year’s budget to get it across the line.
What about tax cuts?
Robertson says tax cuts would be inflationary.
So, instead, expect a stream of announcements like those which Ardern made herself on Sunday of increased childcare subsidies.
That should do the trick, party strategists believe.
Yet New Zealanders are realists and they understand that the inflation unleashed in the wake of Covid is not going away anytime soon.
Almost certainly that is why National has been inching ahead of Labour in the polls—even though Ardern reckons they are “neck-and-neck”.
According to last night’s Newshub-Reid Research poll, National has nearly a third more support than Labour – 41% compared with 32%. As a result, Labour is currently projected to lose about 24 of its MPs at the next election, and be booted out of office just as the Labour governments in 1975 and 1990 were.
Ardern says NZ is roughly 12 months away from the election and the government’s focus is “people, not polls”.
The policy she announced on Sunday would see a change in the childcare subsidy payment from next year – something more than half of all Kiwi families might benefit from.
The change would mean a family with two parents both working 40 hours a week on $26/hour with two children under five who were currently not eligible for childcare assistance, be eligible for $252/week.
But exactly how much each family saves on childcare will depend on how many hours they work, their incomes, how long their children spend in care and the cost of it.
The government expects the changes will mean the parents of about 7400 additional children will receive the payment on average per month.
About $190 million over the next four years will be spent on the policy.
“I know it will make a difference”, and was in direct response to issues voters had been raising, Ardern told Morning Report.
Point of Order doesn’t see this kind of policy move shifting, or reversing, the direction the polls are moving. What Labour can do now may only staunch the bleeding.
As Dr Bryce Edwards puts it: “New Zealand now essentially has two conservative major parties for the public to choose from. Unfortunately for one of them – the Labour Party – the public increasingly prefers the more authentic conservative option, National”.
On his analysis, the rapture at the Labour Party conference may have been more synthetic than originally reported.