Politics

Poll rewards Turei’s welfare bombshell – but Labour plunges deeper into the abyss

Pollwatch: Andrew Little admits he’s thought about standing down, after the latest from One News and Colmar Brunton shows a leap in support for the Greens. And how about that undecided number …

During the 2014 election campaign, the Green Party gained a piffling 1% of media coverage, the party’s co-leader James Shaw told the Spinoff earlier this year. Until a fortnight ago, they looked destined to get much the same this time around. Until Metiria Turei stood up at the Green Annual General Meeting and delivered an autobiographical bombshell to accompany the party’s new welfare policy – she revealed she had lied to Winz about the people she had living with her, back in the 90s, when she was a solo parent studying for a law degree.

It was a risky tactic, and polarised opinion, but in terms of attracting headlines for the party it unequivocally worked: beyond the Greens’ expectations, it has been the dominant political story across the last two weeks.

But did it work in terms of garnering support? The answer, by way of the Colmar Brunton poll for One News published this evening, is fairly clear: yup. The only problem is that the gain – a four-point leap to 15%, a new high in this poll –has come, almost certainly and hardly surprisingly, at the expense of the Labour Party.

For Andrew Little, it’s dire. The headline on TVNZ’s story is stark: “Labour slumps to its lowest level in more than 20 years”. The Spinoff categorised the last CB/OneNews poll as “pretty shithouse” for Labour. This one is a colossal turd.

The important numbers in the poll, conducted from July 22-27, are these:

National: 47% (no change)

Labour: 24% (-3)

Green: 15%(+4)

NZ First: 11% (nc)

Opportunities Party: 2% (+1)

Maori Party: 1% (nc)

The numbers were sufficiently grim that Andrew Little decided to tell TVNZ’s political editor, Corin Dann, that he’d considered quitting the leadership. He had “spoken to senior colleagues” about whether he should remain leader, said Little, but they’d encouraged him to stay put.

In some sense this poll changes nothing. The Green-Labour bloc has in fact risen by one point, to 39%, since the poll earlier in the month – both they and National would still require NZ First to govern based on these numbers. But that can’t disguise the seriously terrible upshot for the main party of opposition.

Corin Dann and some numbers. Grab: TVNZ. Lead photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

A tripartite coalition with Labour in the low 20s? The Greens will make the case that it’s sustainable, that it’s just mature MMP politics. Winston Peters will hardly rule it out, given his wish to keep the options open and his negotiating position strong. But Andrew Little seems to think otherwise. In a telling remark on 1 News this evening he said of such a scenario, “there’d be a real credibility issue”. Bear in mind that if they travel much south of 24% and perform decently in constituency battles, Labour could even miss out on top-up list seats altogether, meaning Little would lose his own place in parliament.

Little was careful tonight not to condemn the Greens’ recent strategy, but he’s probably apoplectic: the Greens have successfully inspired a bunch of Labour’s supporters to join them, just as NZ First already have, and all the while National firms up the steady-as-she-goes centre-ground. Of the Turei revelation and the associated campaigning, Little did say this: “Is it helping in the long run? Well, that’s a question they have to answer themselves.”

This then could spell panic stations for Labour. Twenty-four per cent is lower than the historic 25% disaster under David Cunliffe in 2014. In the Colmar Brunton poll at the same distance from that election, the party was on 28%. Surely they will have to try and pull something out of the hat before September 23. Some in the party will be making the case that Labour now needs to embrace a post-Corbyn, post-Sanders boldness. The steady-hand-on-the-tiller, ready-for-government vibe might have been right in years gone by, but does it capture the spirit of these times?

Can Labour repeat its 2005 policy flourish, in which a pledge to scrap interest on student loans took them over the line? It seems a safe bet now –what have they to lose? – that the three-years-free tertiary education promise, which presently would only be fully implemented by 2025, will be expedited, propelled forward so that the carrot is served a whole lot sooner.

Anything to clutch at for Labour? Well, they could point to the fact that the National vs Labour-Green breakdown in this poll, at 47 vs 39, is closer than in the same poll two months from the 2014 election, when it was 52 vs 38. And there’s a flicker of hope in the undecided numbers. In July 2014, Colmar Brunton reported a 10% undecided figure. Today, that is 16%. Something, maybe, to play for.

While NZ First remains stable on 11%, Gareth Morgan will be doing wheelies at the 2% result for the Opportunities Party. If they can make it to 3% as the campaign proper kicks off, they have a real shot at summiting the crucial 5% threshold. As for the ACT Party and United Future, however, their status as one-man appendages to the National Party is confirmed in this latest poll, which gives them 0.3% and 0.1% respectively.

It’s all going kind of swimmingly, meanwhile, for National. They didn’t need to make a huge deal out of the Turei confession – just stick with the stability message and hope that there might be a sliver of Labour supporters who deplore any benefit fraud might move across the aisle.

National released its party list today, to much less fanfare, and substantially less press coverage, than those from the Greens and Labour before them. The modest press attention on that won’t worry them much. There isn’t much that leaps out, with the exception of the conspicuous “To Be Confirmed” down at No 68. That’s to be filled by Todd Barclay’s 11th-hour replacement as candidate for Clutha-Southland, following a scandal which, it appears, has hardly left Bill English with a flesh wound. For National, it’s business as usual, while the spotlight hovers on a leader of the opposition who has been thinking about chucking it in.

Want more politics? Check out the Spinoff’s Gone By Lunchtime political podcast, hosted by Toby Manhire with Ben Thomas and Annabelle Lee. Listen to the latest episode here, or subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher.

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