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The Bulletin: Pair of polls puts pressure on Ardern and Labour

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: A pair of polls put pressure on the Labour Party, a wild night of weather in the North Island, and Shane Jones snapped brandishing a semi-automatic.

Parliament resumes today after a fortnight recess, and MPs were given a welcome-back present in the form of two opinion polls. Last night, 1 News delivered a set of numbers that could return to power that old combo of the National Party plus ACT – but only by a whisker. The Colmar Brunton poll for TVNZ put National up 2 points on 47%, Labour down 3 on 40%, the Greens up 1 to 7%  and NZ First up 1 to 4%. ACT, the Māori Party and TOP were all steady on 1%.

Twenty four hours earlier, as noted in yesterday’s Bulletin, Newshub declared, “the age of Jacindamania is over”, with its Reid Research poll putting National up 7 points to 44%, Labour down 9 to 42%, the Greens steady on 6% and NZ First up 1 to 4% (the three smaller parties all registered 1%). That’s bad for Labour, but not as terrible as it might seem: on those numbers, a Labour-Green coalition could cross the line, while the previous poll, four months earlier, probably flattered Labour.

The usual caveats apply: it’s just a couple of opinion polls, and it’s always the trend that matters more than one snapshot. At the same time, it’s clear Labour has been on a bumpy road lately, with the stalling of KiwiBuild and the botched investigation into a staffer both likely to have had an impact. The new polls do put Labour higher than its recorded result on election night (“I take heart in that,” the prime minister told RNZ this morning), but it needs a strong finish to the year to halt the slide in the “year of delivery”.

“There are still some big areas where the promised reforms haven’t yet come,” said RNZ political editor Jane Patterson. “National has plenty of fodder.” The Herald’s Claire Trevett advised we buckle in for a “white-knuckle ride to the 2020 election”.

The preferred PM polling has tightened, too, though Ardern continues to hold a strong lead. Colmar/TVNZ puts Ardern on 38 to Bridges on 9, and Newshub has Ardern on 38 versus Bridges on 7.

It’s been a wild night of Spring weather across the top half of the North Island. A low is travelling southeast across the island, dispatching as it goes heavy rain and at times severe gales, with surface flooding and downed power lines reported in Auckland, the Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty. Emergency services report 37 call-outs overnight, with evacuations of freedom campers in Coromandel. It’s not going anywhere in a hurry, either. The Met Service severe weather warning is in place until tomorrow morning. The forecast is for rain, wind and trampolines.

Shane Jones has succeeded even while on holiday in making life difficult for Jacinda Ardern. He’d promised to take with him the Cabinet Manual; instead he’s been photographed with a semi-automatic, reports the Herald (paywalled). In now-deleted pictures posted on Facebook by his wife, Jones is shown firing an AR-15, which would be banned in New Zealand under new laws. Jones says it was “international research”; Ardern says the important thing is he supported the gun reforms.

The Christchurch Press leads this morning with the announcement of fines as high as $100,000 for universities that fail to take care of students in their accommodation. The story is of particular significance to Canterbury because it was there that Mason Pendrous, pictured on the front page of the paper, died at the Sonoda hall of residence, his body lying many weeks undiscovered. A new mandatory code of practice would replace the existing voluntary system, announced the education minister, Chris Hipkins. “The recent death at a student hall of residence in Christchurch exposed the limitations of our current system,” he said.

A funding boost for efforts to tackle online extremism has been announced. The government says the $17 million spend will double the size of an Internal Affairs team focused on investigating and halting violent extremist content online. It will also see the chief censor empowered to assess and make faster decisions about harmful content. Internal Affairs minister told media Martin that the changes mean extremist material can be “targeted by working quickly with online content hosts to remove it as quickly as possible”, reports Newshub. Chief censor David Shanks told Newstalk ZB this morning he was confident the changes would make an important difference.

The most compelling sport in New Zealand in recent weeks? The battle between Spark and Sky for the future of sport broadcasting. Spark shrugged off its rugby streaming snafus last week with a shock announcement that it had swooped for New Zealand domestic cricket rights. Now another twist: not only has Sky secured New Zealand rugby rights till 2025, it’s sold, as part of that deal, 5% of the company to NZ Rugby. It’s an extraordinary thing to happen – something that is hard to imagine, say, in the Ofcom-regulated UK market. In the Herald (paywalled), Chris Keall argues it puts NZ Rugby in a conflicted position for future rights negotiations. It’s intriguing, too, that Spark didn’t get a chance to bid: Sky closed the deal during its exclusive negotiation period.

Newspapers in Australia and the UK are reporting that two young New Zealanders have been hired by Boris Johnson’s election campaign team. As the Brexit maelstrom rages on, a snap election looks imminent – the Queen’s Speech delivered overnight by the prime minister is widely reported to have been an election manifesto in all but name. In preparation for that contest, the Conservatives have signed up Sean Topham and Ben Guerin, the twentysomething New Zealanders described as “digital gurus” by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Latika Bourke for their work on Scott Morrison’s campaign, which “saw the Liberals outclass Labor online”. The British tabloid The Sun is so sure they’re digital gurus it called them that four times in one short report.

The pair, who have renamed from Topham Guerin to TG, are reported to be at work already, having made the launch video for the Tory leader’s recent conference speech.

Topham was “the digital whiz who worked at in the inner sanctum of the Liberals’ campaign HQ in Brisbane”, wrote NZ Herald political editor Audrey Young in a June profile. “We were highly responsive to daily events so leveraging Labor’s missteps and rapidly cutting short clips or graphics and rapidly pushing them out on social media,” Topham told the Herald. It’s a style that will be familiar to anyone watching the recent output from Simon Bridges’ National Party, who acknowledge they’ve taken a leaf or two out of the Liberal campaign book.

For someone so young – he’s 28 – Topham “has a remarkable campaign CV”, said Young. While president of the Young Nats, he’d worked on John Key’s 2014 campaign, and subsequently on David Cameron’s team in 2015, and Malcolm Turnbull’s in 2016. He also worked on Bill English’s campaign in 2017, said Young. “Although he did not do the two most famous social media components of that campaign, the Walk-Run and the Spaghetti Pizza.”

In sport, sort of, the 2019 Booker Prize is about to be handed out, and the chinking of glasses is just about audible from London. First, read our books editor Catherine Woulfe’s Booker confessions, then tune in to the announcement, which is being livesteamed neither on Spark nor Sky Sport, but it is on the BBC from 9.30am NZ time.

The bookmakers have Margaret Atwood a firm favourite for The Testaments, followed by Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World and Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport both at 3/1. At 5/1, Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. At 6/1, An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma. And making up the field, it’s Salman Rushdie, whose Quichotte is a 12/1 longshot.

In other sport, also sort of, the massively popular online game Fortnite just got sucked into a black hole, and people are pretty angry about it.

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