Bill­board costs may be Lit­tle’s life­line

The Press - - Politics-News - TRACY WATKINS

Labour is in a hole and doesn’t know how to dig its way out.

An­drew Lit­tle’s ex­tra­or­di­nary ad­mis­sion that he talked to his col­leagues about fall­ing on his sword sounds like the death rat­tle of a leader who knows that come elec­tion night he might be of­fer­ing his res­ig­na­tion.

Labour MPs will be reel­ing from a poll that puts the party on track for its worst re­sult yet.

It is on 24 per cent - its low­est in that poll in more than 20 years.

Labour’s Pollyan­nas will ar­gue that all is not lost.

A surge in sup­port for the Greens on the back of co-leader Me­tiria Turei’s DPB fraud bomb keeps a cen­tre left Gov­ern­ment in play – but only if NZ First throws in it’s lot with them.

Yet Lit­tle may not even be there to stitch up that deal. On yes­ter­day’s poll num­bers, Lit­tle is on the cusp of leav­ing the party not just bro­ken on elec­tion night, but lead­er­less. If Labour drops just a cou­ple of per cent more, Lit­tle will be out of Par­lia­ment.

That’s one con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis MMP hasn’t thrown up to us yet.

The most com­pelling rea­son of­fered last night for Lit­tle not to go sooner was that the party had al­ready made its elec­tion year bill­boards and cam­paign ads.

There was no more money for new ones so Lit­tle should be safe, was the ra­tio­nale.

Po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tion has it that dump­ing lead­ers just weeks out from an elec­tion doesn’t only look des­per­ate, it looks ugly and ill dis­ci­plined.

But when you’re at rock bot­tom – and Labour will be pray­ing and hop­ing that’s what this is – con­ven­tion can fly out the win­dow.

The party is look­ing at a rout and many of its MPs, Lit­tle in­cluded, are likely to lose their jobs.

Lit­tle has a pop­u­lar deputy, Jacinda Ardern. But even if she wanted to chal­lenge Lit­tle – and there are few signs that she does – Ardern’s men­tors would prob­a­bly coun­sel her to wait.

She would carry the weight of Labour’s fail­ure on her shoul­ders and even if the party could wear that, Ardern might not. Be­ing cat­a­pulted into the lead­er­ship too early can be a curse.

Lit­tle was last night of­fer­ing few con­vinc­ing ex­cuses for Labour’s fail­ure. He pointed to the mi­nor par­ties, the Greens and NZ First, suck­ing up more of the po­lit­i­cal oxy­gen with at­ten­tion­grab­bing head­lines.

But that just puts the hard word back on Lit­tle. If a few good speeches and some at­ten­tion­grab­bing poli­cies are all it takes, how come Labour has failed?

The party’s me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with the Greens will also face some tough ques­tions: Has it given Labour vot­ers li­cence to switch sides, while forc­ing many of its more con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers into NZ First’s arms?

Turei’s pitch to ben­e­fi­cia­ries is seen as a cal­cu­lated at­tempt to can­ni­balise Labour votes.

But Lit­tle is not com­pletely out of straws to clutch. Turei, and NZ First’s Win­ston Peters, or TOPs Gareth Mor­gan, won’t get equal time in the lead­ers de­bates once the cam­paign proper gets un­der way.

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