The original of this post is here at Polity
There’s no skating around it – Labour hasn’t had a good week. And the biggest shame is that beltway errors have been allowed to eclipse real progress on issues that actually matter to New Zealand families.
It may not directly affect New Zealanders’ lives where in particular Labour members park their bums when they discuss the party’s business. And David Cunliffe’s view about his home’s state of repair is almost certainly irrelevant to pretty much everyone. But that lack of direct relevance does not matter, because these issues matter for perceptions. If Labour is perceived as bumbling, or as lacking self-awareness, that will certainly be reflected at the ballot box.
My guess is that over the course of this weekend things will continue to look poor for the left. Another poll – that was in the field right through this week – will reports its findings on Sunday. I do not know the results, but if Labour can stay above 30 after this week then its MPs will be breathing sighs of relief.
To be fair, the other larger parties haven’t been winning too many tricks either, as Vernon Small pointed out yesterday. Whether the issue is Taurima or Slater or Dotcom, misere all round appears to be the bid.
As I mentioned at the top, however, there are a couple of bright spots amongst the gloom.
First was the news that Fairfax’s polling shows Labour as being more trusted to make policy for New Zealand kids. That whole space – paid parental leave, caring for young kids, early childhood education, schooling – looks set to become one of the biggest battlegrounds of election year, and getting independent confirmation of Labour’s superior public standing on those issues is heartening. (How that finding came to be buried in para twelve of a story with a headline about That Nice Man Mr Key is beyond me, but there you go.)
The reason that policy findings like this are more important that the state of the horse-race in February is that very few people are making firm political decisions at this time in the cycle. The firm partisans made up their minds when they turned 18, and a large majority of the swinging voters don’t make up their minds until the campaign. So the three point dip Labour saw in yesterday’s Roy Morgan poll is certainly real, but it is likely soft and reversible.
The second bright spot, of course, is Shane Jones’ success in getting the Commerce Commission to inquire into goings-on at Countdown. Anti-competitive behaviour in the supermarket duopoly directly affects almost every New Zealander and, thanks to Jones, any movement in this area during 2014 will be credited mainly to Labour.
These bright spots have the potential to grow into real strengths, because they actually matter to New Zealanders. But they can only pay dividends for Labour later in the year if Labour puts together a sustained period of solid, competent work and representation around the country. If it can, then events of this week will likely fade into the mist. The next few weeks will be critical.