The latest polls show that Colin Craig, Winston Peters and perhaps even the Maori Party have something in common... the need for Labour to do better

To rip off Jono and Ben, it sux to be David Cunliffe right now. He's got everything he fought so hard for in the leadership of the Labour Party, but has wasted the first phase of his time in charge. Still, he's not the only party leader on the 'sux to be' list right now. As we get closer to election day a whole lot of electoral ironies are appearing.

National was vulnerable late last year after the blows of the GCSB fuss and John Banks' donation claims and with Labour's primary making them look energised, but it has turned around its performance and popularity. That has obviously been bad news for Labour and the Greens, but it's also worrying for New Zealand First and even the Conservatives.

In the high 40s, National can govern with its one-seat partners ACT and United Future (and possibly the Maori Party). Though everyone on #teamkey will be pushing the line that Labour will rebound and nothing can be taken for granted (because it can't), John Key is hoping he might just – just! – be able to govern alone (or all-but alone) for the next three years. On The Nation we saw a glimpse, when he said he "really personally desperately hope that’s what election night looks like", but that's only really appealing for National and United Future. And perhaps ACT, which wants National party supporters on the right of the spectrum to feel so confident in a win they can pass their party vote over to the boys in yellow.

Winston Peters perhaps more than anyone wants – needs – David Cunliffe to lift his game. As National has looked more dominant, New Zealand First was look less necessary to many voters. If National v Labour and the Greens is neck and neck, then voters seem to turn to Peters as the man to "keep the buggers honest". But if National doesn't need New Zealand First, Peters loses his edge. The irony is that Labour could improve, boost New Zealand First and then see it hand National a third term anyway. Or, that voters could turn to New Zealand First as an honest-broker or more sensible support partner for National, only to have it back Labour. C'est la vie MMP.

Oddly enough, Colin Craig is in the same boat as Winston Peters on this one. He too needs Labour to do better – but not too well. National has made it clear, he's the very last cab off the rank. John Key couldn't come up with one nice thing to say about Craig's performance this year on The Nation and clearly is unimpressed with what he sees. National would rather go without the Conservatives. In fact, it's really, really not keen. John Key likes things just the way they are, thank you very much. So long as National stays above something like 47 percent and the Conservatives below around 3.5 percent (at which point National can afford the wasted vote), National will back itself to make it alone or with its current amenable partners... And back itself not to have to sacrifice policies to accommodate some of Craig's worrying list of "bottom lines", that have included the likes of smacking law and binding referenda.

And then of course there's the Maori Party irony. It is weirdly in that same boat with Peters and Craig. At least, it has one leg in it. On one level the party vote results mean nothing to voting in the Maori seats. Yet the Maori Party is tied to dealing with whoever wins. If National looks unassailable, Mana-Internet can say that a vote for the Maori Party is a vote for National and the only hope for change is Mana. And the waker National is, the more it needs the Maori Party alongside ACT and United Future. On the other hand, it could help save Te Tai Hauāuru if Labour looks weak.

But here's the thing... judging by previous campaigns the polls will move. If Labour does something disastrous, it could yet end up like National in 2002 and there's a tiny chance National could govern with just the one-seaters. But more probably, given that this is a government seeking a third term, the race will tighten. And if Internet-Mana looks to be getting 2-3 percent (as per the One News Colmar Brunton poll), all the more reason to make sure no vote on the right is wasted.

So despite the bluster, denials and equivocations by John Key and the dishonesty of his claims that nothing has been decided yet, here's the most likely scenario between here and election day:

  • John Key will sacrifice Murray McCully in East Coast Bays and try to give Colin Craig the seat (it'll be interesting to see how the Bays community responds).
  • National will promise tax cuts in its third term, aimed at the middle class.

That's the truth of it. The risk of trying to go it alone is just so high. Would Key, Joyce and Co really take an all-or-nothing risk, ignoring Craig in the hope its vote holds. Very risky.

And one other irony. If Internet-Mana's strength on the left does damage or even eliminate the Maori Party and force National to make room for the Conservatives, it could open the door to a more right-wing and dogmatic third-term National government.

Yep, those ironies abound.

Comments (12)

by Alan Johnstone on July 01, 2014
Alan Johnstone

Two things that interests me is where is the IM vote coming from, is it from previous Labour voters or from previous non voters? Same with the NZCP votes, is it directly lifted from National or elsewhere ?

If anyone has sub-samples from recent polling that shed any light then that'd be great.

by Anne on July 01, 2014

<i> If Internet-Mana's strength on the left does damage or even eliminate the Maori Party and force National to make room for the Conservatives, it could open the door to a more right-wing and dogmatic third-term National government.</i>

Lets get down to the nitty gritty. If we wind up with "a right wing and dogmatic third term National government" then let the main-stream media (of which you are a part Tim) acknowledge its share of the blame. A sizeable group of journalists and reporters have gone out of their way to misrepresent David Cunliffe and to indulge in petty minutia in an attempt to paint a negative picture of Labour's policy agenda. 

The most recent example of that 'misrepresentation' is the Donghua Liu affair. I almost have the impression the media efforts to blame Labour over this affair is a cover-up  for the blatant dishonesty and lack of journalistic standards exhibited... in particular by the NZ Herald and TV3 news.

by Nick Gibbs on July 01, 2014
Nick Gibbs

Lets get down to the nitty gritty. If we wind up with "a right wing and dogmatic third term National government" then let the main-stream media (of which you are a part Tim) acknowledge its share of the blame.

Perhaps we could blame the voters instead, or would that mean the political left would have to own their own failure to present a viable alternative? 




by Tim Watkin on July 01, 2014
Tim Watkin

Anne, as I've written on previous threads I simply don't agree with that analysis of the media. I think the Herald on Sunday erred. But to somehow blame "mainstream media", as if it's a single thing, makes no sense to me. Of course journalists aren't perfect and we all have better or worse days on the job, but "dishonesty" and "gone out of their way"? Those are very, very serious criticisms.

As I've said, how do you square this bias with the Oravida coverage, Williamson's sacking and more. On Liu, one thing that stands is that Cunliffe wrote a letter and said he didn't. That's a fact, even if there are many years between. Would you expect the media to be lenient if it was a National MP? Here's a trick, switch the party and individual names out and ask yourself what you'd think if such coverage was aimed at National or ACT. And do the same with Oravida...

And be honest, does Labour really deserve to take no responsibility for the position it finds itself in.

by Matthew Percival on July 01, 2014
Matthew Percival

Some really good analysis there Tim.

From my perspective the biggest benefit to National gifting a seat to the Conservatives is the 2017 general election. I don't believe locking the Conservatives out of this election affects Nationals chances of victory.

Scenario #1 is Conservatives out and NZ First below 5%. That would see around 6% wasted votes between them plus others. The result being that National could govern alone with around 46.5% of the party vote. Throw in Seymour, Dunne & Flavell and National would only need around 44% of the party vote. I believe they will make that with room to spare and that doesn't include Seymour & Flavell potentially dragging in a mate which both should be close to doing.

Scenario #2 is Conservatives out and NZ First above 5%. I really don't see Winston working with a Labour/Greens co-alition. Winston has already stated his dislike for the Greens and Winston being the #3 player won't sit well with him. Under this scenario National/NZ First co-alition.

Looking forward to 2017 we are looking at Winston retiring and an electorate tiring of a third term government. Dunne may also be looking seriously at retiring, especially if he faces the proposition of being in the opposition benches. Flavell will come under increasing pressure for his seat and ACT will still be reliant on Epsom. National would be just about out of dance partners with the exception of the Conservatives.

If the Conservatives miss out this time there is no telling what might happen to the party over the next 3 years. It's tough for parties to prosper outside of parliament. National needs the Conservatives in now to provide a viable path to victory in 2017 (and beyond).

by Katharine Moody on July 01, 2014
Katharine Moody

 .. it could open the door to a more right-wing and dogmatic third-term National government.

An interesting proposition. Do you mean an executive finally able to spit out all those 'dead rats' that Helen left hanging around?

by Anne on July 01, 2014

First Tim. I thought I was reasonably clear. I don't blame the media as a whole, but rather a "sizeable number of journalists/reporters" were guilty of misreporting to one degree or another. However, the NZ Herald were by far the worst culprits for what was obviously a National Party initiated set-up to bring David Cunliffe into disrepute. It has been mooted that it was probably utu for Labour's exposure of Judith Collins' serious conflict of interest and Maurice Williamson's inteference in a police operational matter. Whether they were aware it was a set-up or were duped is anybody's guess. For example, why wouldn't the Herald make the contents of the LIu "statement" public?  That could have cleared up a lot of misapprehensions. 

As for the Cunliffe letter?  A proforma letter in 2003?  One of many thousands of similar letters he's signed in the intervening eleven years?  They have electorate secretaries who pen these letters you know... while they're away in Wellington. He would not have met or had any knowledge of LIu at that time. Funny isn't it. John Key has "brainfades" on a regular basis but somehow that is always okay. Never evokes anything like the hysteria it does with Labour leaders - especially Cunliffe.  Also, there were some interesting time-lines around the OIA release of that Cunliffe letter which should have made any journalist worth his salt smell a rat..

Finally I heard former Privacy Commissioner, Bruce Slane (for whom I have a lot of respect) express exactly the same concerns on Radio NZ last week - albeit perhaps in more diplomatic terms. But he did say "I feel very strongly about this matter" and went on to express his deep concern at the quality of the journalism in respect of the LIu affair. 

by Anne on July 01, 2014

Sorry for typo. I was referring to Liu of course. 

by Tim Watkin on July 01, 2014
Tim Watkin

Matthew, right back at you.That's something that came up in a conversation last week and I'd forgotten to mention it (not that it was my observation anyway!). Key has shown he's good at looking ahead and you're right, if he's serious about 2017 then a gift to Craig would be wise. Consider how good he's been at refreshing his own team; surviving a fourth term in MMP would mean refreshing his coalition partners as well.

But in part for that reason, I wouldn't be so sure about Peters. Maybe he's only got one term left, maybe not. Think about 84 year-old Charles Wrangel who just won another term in the US Congress. But Key would partly want Craig because he appreciates the importance of momentum, fresh energy. Perhaps Peters appreciates that too. No, he won't like being third wheel (and if Labour can get back to the point where it and NZF could govern together he might not need be), but maybe he's looking for a two term government, not just a three year lark. So which party gives him the best shot at that? Interesting question.

But I think Craig works for Key on all sorts of levels, 2017 being another crucial one. So yep, deal in East Coast Bays. Boom.

by Tim Watkin on July 01, 2014
Tim Watkin

Apologies for my loose language, but both "as a whole" and "a sizeable number" sound like generalisations to me and that's where I disagree. Criticise the Herald on the specific (and mostly a specific story), but beware generalisations. Even 'the Herald' criticism is loose. Fran O'Sullivan talked about the source of letter in her column and there are plenty of other reporters in that paper who are critical of or have made life difficult for this government (David Fisher, Brian Rudman etc), so it's hard to damn the whole paper let alone a "sizeable number" of journalists. Jared Savage has done fine work that included forcing a minister to resign. So why would he suddenly become a biased and dishonest reporter overnight?

Now I don't know what was going on at the Herald around Liu, but every time I've been involved in stories that have earnt that sort of criticism, the truth of the matter, the decisions involved and so on have been much less conniving and Machivallian than critics have thought. Journalists don't always see how things are going to play out with 20/20 foresight, sometimes you get caught up in getting the story and make a mistake, sometimes someone's off sick and something's forgotten... not great examples, but hopefully you take my point.

I understand the frustration when the media lets you/us down, but it's just so normal to attack journalists these days in sweeping terms that no-one seems to notice the danger and unfairness. And while I'm not having a go at you per se, the critics of a journalists' failure to check something or wrong assumptions, for example, often seem oblvious to the assumptions and lack of checking in their own analysis. Just sayin'.

Utu? It's politics, it's always in part about bring down the other team so no particular attack is required to motivate another attack. They're constant.

Brain fades. I remember Key being hauled over the coals repeatedly for those. Has he really been excused, as you say? It hasn't hurt his poll ratings, but the media's criticism and what voters do with that information are different things. Just because Cunliffe has suffered at the hands of public opinion more than Key doesn't mean the coverage has been biased. Couldn't it just as likely say more about that public opinion?


by Richard Aston on July 02, 2014
Richard Aston

Interesting post over here from Russel Brown who has just interviewed polsters.

The big issue apparently is the growing number of undecided responses coming through.

This segment is not always reported well in poll resultsbut when it approaches 25% it will have a major impact on the accuracy of the poll.  They suggest the votes Labour is currently "losing" are not going to National rather to undecided.

Another good article on this is here

Which of course makes it even more difficult to predict this election result.


by Anne on July 02, 2014

 I don't agree with many of your assumptions as laid out in your latter comment Tim, But since it's your post I will let you have the last word. :)  Except to say:

I agree, Fran O"Sullivan wrote a very good piece on the Liu affair.  Her reasoned, mature analysis was a breath of fresh air amidst the flurry of hysterical nonsense from  (some) other Herald reporters/commentators, including at least one anonymous editorial. One can only speculate who it may have been. 


Post new comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.