Oct 24, 2008

Sensible Herald Editorial Today

We agree with much in today's Herald Editorial

Today's Herald-DigiPoll survey must be a subject of frustration in the ranks of the Labour Party. The tilting at John Key's political inexperience, his previous career, and a stumbling and bumbling National Party election campaign have done relatively little to bring the two major parties closer together. The poll shows National with 50.4 per cent support and Labour with 37 per cent. In line with most others, it discloses a gap that will be difficult to bridge in the remaining two weeks of the campaign. Even after the gap is closed when centre-left and centre-right coalition blocs are grouped together, and allowing for a big overhang resulting from the Maori Party winning all seven Maori electorates, this poll result would see National as likely victors.

Perhaps most sobering for Labour is the fact that this is the 13th consecutive month the DigiPoll survey has recorded National as holding a double-digit advantage. That suggests many people are intent on signing off Helen Clark after three terms of Labour-led administrations. Such is their mindset that they have not been, and are tending not to be, swayed by the minutiae of what happens on the campaign trail, whether it be television advertisements or National blunders.


In many ways, the situation has parallels to last year's election in Australia. Prime Minister John Howard, having presided over 11 years of enduring prosperity, was routed by the Labor Party's Kevin Rudd. The voters' verdict had much to do with the simple desire for a fresh face and new ideas. Mr Rudd presented this in a non-alarming way. Mr Howard's repeated warning to voters not to abandon a proven formula gained little traction. The electorate, quite simply, wanted to look ahead.
Mr Key has concentrated on presenting an unthreatening countenance, not unlike that of Mr Rudd. This seems to have neutralised Labour's attempts to draw attention to his former career as a Merrill Lynch money trader. Indeed, Mr Key's rating in the preferred prime minister stakes has varied little over the past six months, even if in this survey he has fallen behind Helen Clark for the first time in that period, albeit by just 44.8 per cent to her 45.4 per cent. That would suggest further assaults on his character over the next fortnight. The danger for Labour is that these may be self-defeating unless issues with considerably more substance and resonance are raised.

This survey suggests that key Labour policies, most notably the carrot to students of a universal allowance, have not been significant enough as vote-catchers. Nor have repeated claims of a "secret" National agenda.

Further National blunders may spark increased doubts about that party's readiness to govern but, on the polling evidence so far, these would deliver Labour only a percentage point or two. That would not be nearly enough to overhaul what appears to be National's embedded advantage. In such circumstances, the permutations associated with potential coalition partners, and the Greens' success in climbing back above the 5 per cent threshold in this poll, offer not enough comfort. Not at this stage of a campaign. Labour's hopes rest now on some cataclysmic occurrence, an event resounding enough to shatter the current template.