National in turmoil & still popular – it's Labour which needs ACC

National's ministers are looking shakey amidst allegations of cronyism and defamation. So who's benefitting in the polls? Um, National. So what's going on?

The latest One News-Colmar Brunton poll is a kick in the pants for Labour. After a ministerial resignation and a fortnight where the whiff of cronyism was never far from National, the governing party can still command more than 50 percent in the polls. That's astounding.

The suggestion is that voters don’t much care about the whole ACC-Bronwyn Pullar saga. Oh, it’s good theatre and they’d hate to think anyone was getting special treatment, but it’s not enough for them to switch sides. They can see that a minister has gone, so ‘something has been done’. They see a woman on a lonely crusade and think ‘that’s hardly National’s fault’. They see former National Party president Michelle Boag in the gun, but don’t think of that as a reflection on the current government.

And they hear John Key say time and again that if there was any real cronyism going on, Pullar would be in a better position after ten years than she is now. The fact she hasn’t got her way is proof of no cronyism.

Except it isn’t. John Key can’t say that the intervention of Smith, Boag, or anyone else hasn’t influenced the way ACC has handled this case; only the ACC staff on the receiving end can say whether they felt pressured by Pullar’s National Party mates. And as Fran O’Sullivan pointed out on Q+A this Sunday:

“I want to challenge the notion that the prime minister put there that, you know, there’s been no undue influence because this thing’s gone on for 10 years and hasn’t been settled. Well, actually, it may have gone on for 10 years because of undue influence. This thing, you know, this benefit may have actually been brought to a point three, five, six years ago. I don’t know. It seems a very long time for somebody to be on an ACC benefit who’s already had a large pay-out from an insurance company as well.”

All of which suggests a more thorough inquiry than the Privacy Commissioner can effect is the only way for the air to be cleared.

The PM, though, is unmoved by that argument. For now at least. And this poll result – and the private polling National will be doing – is the reason for that. None of this is hurting his party; not much anyway.

The real pain must be felt by Labour; perhaps they need a better ACC referral.

While National is under attack from within and ministers are looking rugged, to say the least, the opposition isn’t benefiting. Voters clearly don’t yet see Labour as a viable alternative government. David Shearer is not the ‘go to’ guy for voters to run to. Some inside Labour may say ‘give us a chance, it’s only April’. But if they can’t make hay now, when can they?

National is in an uncomfortable place – just look at Key on Q+A. He came across as evasive, unwilling to back or condemn Michelle Boag and unwilling to confront the central issue of the Bronwyn Pullar story, which is that she has gained access to ACC in a way you and I could not and has been able to keep her claim going, not just because she's persistent, but because she has had the support of a minister, another MP and two former party presidents (not to mention her ability to drop names).

He was even keeping the door open to the taxpayer picking up the bill for Judith Collins' defamation case. I'm not going to say Collins doesn't have the right to feel peeved. She has explicitly said the leak did not come from her or her office. Andrew Little and Trevor Mallard have effectively said that's a lie, but have presented no evidence to substantiate that believe. I've had that sort of thing happen to me, and it's infuriating.

But I wouldn't sue. She's a politician who likes to be known as pugnacious. She embraced the nickname crusher with pride, called boy-racers "utter morons" and David Benson-Pope a "dirty old man" and "pervert", nearly reducing the man to tears.

She can dish it out, so she needs to learn how to take it.

As for using public money to fund the action, well, I'd be interested to hear if Bill English thinks that's a "necessity" or a "nice to have".

The problem for Labour is that even a damaged National Party that looks as wounded as it ever has still looks more attractive to most voters than it does. Voters are looking at National in turmoil and still ticking their box. If that’s not a signal that Labour needs to up its game dramatically, then I don’t know what is.