I must admit that a month ago I was very pessimistic about the left’s chances in this election. The media narrative was very negative and was having its effect. Morale was low. And the Beehive inspired and Slater directed attacks on David Cunliffe were relentless.
National’s preparation for this campaign was impressive. It had sympathetic people appointed to positions of considerable media importance. Its bank accounts are obviously full. Somehow a dozen MPs had been persuaded to retire and a feeling of renewal was evident. And John Key was able to continue the nice guy persona while forces associated with him smeared to their hearts content. Somehow National has been able to create the illusion that he is a nice guy who is above politics as usual while everyone on the left was tarnished by the relentless attacks of his sock puppets.
Nicky Hagar’s book has clearly changed all of that. Drawing direct lines between the attack politics and Key’s office has affected his previous strength. If Key is nothing more than another scheming plotting politician intent on winning at all costs and the public believe this then his point of difference is gone.
And despite claims that it is nothing more than a left wing conspiracy and it is all false Dirty Politics is having its effect. The sense of panic in National’s ranks is palpable. They must dread every new bit of information that Whaledump either tweets or gives to a media which is clearly disgusted at the way they have been treated. Collins is gone. They must be wondering what they will be hit with next.
If you want verification of the effect that this is having on National the latest two Colmar Brunton poll reports provides some. People who believe Hager’s allegation that the smears came from Key’s office have gone from 28% to 41%. The percentage of voters who have had their view of the National Party negatively affected by the book has doubled from 9% to 18%. 44% of respondents did not believe John Key when he denied being personally informed about the circumstances of the SIS leak. Surely John Key cannot be relaxed about this.
The revelations last weekend about Slater’s smear campaign on the head of the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Markets Authority paid for by Mark Hotchin are absolutely dynamite. The allegations reinforce the perception that National is a party for the rich and powerful, exactly the perception that Crosby Textor was paid to obliterate.
Some right wingers are now rebelling against the tactics. Matthew Hooton is now a prominent critic of the Government. Allegations that Key’s office tried to have his firm’s contract with CERA cancelled and also put pressure on a private client to change to Saunders Unsworth from Hooton’s firm if true are vindictive. The allegation concerning CERA needs to be added to the long list of matters requiring investigation.
National’s problem is that it is looking punch drunk and clearly it does not know what is going to be released next.
Last night’s debate showed real signs of desperation. Key was his shouty interrupting worst. His higher mike level during the first half of the debate and a perception that he had a lot more talk time did not help. He was clearly pitching for the private school used car salesman sector of the electorate whereas David Cunliffe pitched his delivery at the ordinary people sector of the electorate.
And in terms of detail Cunliffe clearly had much greater control than Key and had answers for issues that many locals still face. Key keeps asking that this election campaign be about policy but then diverts attention away from such topics as child poverty. The media need to ensure that he actually says what National will do about such issues.
The fairfax media verdict that the debate was close is absolutely fine. All that National has is John Key. He is the one reason they have historically polled so well. If Cunliffe shows he is an alternative PM in waiting, and he is clearly showing that, then he has done his job.
No doubt some will focus on Cunliffe’s not answering a question on CGT and if it applies to homes held in a trust. The answer is that CGT will not apply to the family home even if it is owned by a trust. Cunliffe wanted to check the detail before answering and what is wrong with that? And Key’s claim that the CGT will apply is wrong. Audrey Young may have unwittingly captured the irony in the situation by stating that you could say it was Key at his best, if it weren’t for the fact he was wrong in fact.
Getting back to the campaign the Labour campaign is going really well. David Cunliffe has been impressive. Thick wads of policy have been rolled out. Activism in West Auckland is as high as I have seen. And the on the ground contact with people has been increasingly positive. There is a real interest building up in this election campaign, something that Simon Lusk and his ilk will be dreading.
So clearly there is a gradual corrosive effect on National’s support. The support which was rock solid now appears to be weakening and I am sure it will drop. Make no mistake that Key and National have been hurt by recent events. And shouty John may not be the fearsome weapon he once was.