Mallard’s glimmer of hope in poll
Long-serving Hutt South Labour MP Trevor Mallard is realistic that Labour’s current polling and the lessons of history make an opposition victory in November something of a long shot.
‘‘National,’’ he points out, ‘‘has never not won a second term, ever.’’
So, what’s an achievable result that would constitute a job pretty well done in the circumstances? Winning, nothing less.
‘‘Coming in second, when there’s no silver medal is never nice, and it can’t be the objective.
‘‘Therefore, doing something like us getting to 38 to 39 per cent of the vote and the Greens at 9 to 11 per cent is not unrealistic.
‘‘That’s a position where we could have more than the Nats and Act together. It does involve a drop for National and an increase for us, and a small increase for the Greens but again, to use the sporting analogy, who would have picked Samoa to beat Australia at rugby? It does happen.’’
What Labour has to do, he believes, is capitalise on the polling evidence that Key is more popular than his government – which, in turn, is more popular than its policies.
‘‘For us the challenge is to frame the debate as not being about Key, but about the policies likely to flow out of an election result.
‘‘If we can do that, we have a shot of winning. If we can frame it as being a debate about ideas, then we have a much better chance.’’
A better chance certainly, than attacking Key personally – ‘‘He’s a celebrity Prime Minister, he’s on a pedestal.’’
Supposedly, this election is a repeat of 2002, with Labour’s attempts under Phil Goff to rebuild trust and support (after nine years in power) being a mirror image of National’s earlier struggle to do the same.
In 2002, National leader Bill English was reduced to boxing for charity to boost his credibility with the man-on-the-street. Regardless, conservative voters flocked to Peter Dunne.
Is there a similar risk that centre-left voters will conclude Labour is a dead duck, and choose the Greens?
‘‘There is a danger of that. In fact, there was an early trend that happened about a month ago, then it bounced back again.’’
Also, some ‘‘soft Nats’’ were attracted by the capital gains tax package – but in similar yo-yo fashion, the package also cost Labour some support among centre-left entrepreneurs. ‘‘Yeah, we lost some landlords.’’ People with only two rental properties, Mallard explains, aren’t necessarily National supporters. In his view, there’s an optimistic side to the 2002 comparison.
‘‘One of the really interesting bits of 2002 was the fact that Labour, then in government, lost 10 points in the last four weeks [before voting day]. Corngate, we think, was the major factor in that.’’
More to the point, voters only gradually realised they weren’t keen on any single party having an outright majority.
‘‘[Therefore], quite a few people on the margins went to Dunne.’’
No, he concludes, the Rugby World Cup will not necessarily compress the election campaign into just one month. While television news will be dominated by rugby, the tournament will bring friends, relatives, neighbours and strangers together.
‘‘What we’re going to see is people moving around over Rugby World Cup, talking to people they don’t normally talk to. My view is, they won’t only be talking about rugby.’’
Gordon Campbell is an experienced political journalist and columnist who has written for The Listener and Scoop.