Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Labour’s “Year of non-Delivery” bites

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New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Image AsiaPacificReport.nz/RNZ.

Commentators across the political spectrum seem to agree – the Labour-led Government’s popularity is being damaged by its failure to deliver in Jacinda Ardern’s self-proclaimed “Year of Delivery”.

Instead, the delivery of bad news to Labour and the Government has come in two opinion polls out this week. Last night’s 1News-Colmar Brunton poll gave Labour its worst result in this poll for nearly two years, with National polling at its highest since it lost office in 2017 – see the poll results in Jessica Mutch McKay’s National and Act have numbers to form a government in latest 1News Colmar Brunton Poll.

For Monday night’s Newshub Reid-Research’s poll, see Tova O’Brien’s Jacinda Ardern, Labour take massive tumble in new Newshub-Reid Research poll, and Jacinda Ardern’s personal brand takes a bashing, Simon Bridges gets a bump and Judith Collins loses her mojo.

The two polls do differ. 1News has Labour dropping three points to 40 percent, Ardern’s popularity down three points to 38 per cent, and National up by two points to 47 per cent. Whereas Newshub has Labour falling by nine percentage points to 42 per cent, Ardern’s popularity falling by 11 points to 38 per cent, and National up by seven points to 44 per cent.

Although not entirely in sync, there are some basic similarities between the two. As blogger David Farrar says, both polls show the following: “National ahead of Labour; National up; Labour down; NZ First below 5%; Greens over 5%” – see: David Farrar: Latest poll.

Farrar also quite rightly says that it’s these broad trends that are the most important take away, suggesting a very competitive election is on the cards for next year: “What both polls say is that an election at the moment would be a very very close result, either way. And they both say that Labour is losing support and National gaining. Individual polls are not as important as the trend.”

Analysing the 1News poll, the Herald’s Jason Walls points out that the twelve versions of this particular poll since the election have had National between 40 and 45 per cent, but this one puts them at their highest yet – at 47 per cent, which even Labour haven’t surpassed at its heights – see: Latest political poll: National surges to highest level since 2017.

In terms of Ardern’s declining popularity, Luke Malpass and Henry Cooke compare this decline with that of John Key, who they say took longer to fall to similar levels: “the lowest preferred Prime Minister rating former prime minister John Key ever received in the same poll was 36 per cent after almost a decade in government in November 2016” – see: New opinion poll has National in a winning position to form government with Act.

Labour’s “Year of Non-delivery”

Jacinda Ardern famously framed 2019 as the Government’s “Year of Delivery”, yet increasingly both the public and commentators are disappointed with how much is actually being delivered. The best evidence of this came in a Newshub poll result revealed last night, which Tova O’Brien says “shows even Labour supporters are being put off their party over its housing decisions” – see: Voters not satisfied with Government’s progress on housing – Newshub-Reid Research Poll.

Here are the key poll results: “Most people – 49.7 percent – said the Government is not doing enough to help first-home buyers, while 41.8 percent felt the Government is doing enough. Green voters really don’t think the Government is cutting it, with 60.1 percent saying not enough is being done, compared to just 27 percent who are satisfied.”

Labour voters seem particularly unimpressed by the Government’s non-delivery and other problems. According to this poll, of Labour voters “22.3 percent would change over the scrapping of the capital gains tax; 20.4 percent would change over KiwiBuild failures; 8.2 percent would change over Ihumatao”. Furthermore, “17.4 percent of Labour voters would consider a switch over its handling of the sexual assault investigation.”

Labour’s traditional supporters in the union movement are also impatient with the lack of significant employment relations reform. The CTU held its biennial conference today, and has hit out at the lack of progress, with president Richard Wagstaff urging Labour to get moving with its promises on gender equity and the introduction of Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs).

1News reports: “The leader of New Zealand’s union movement is urging Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to get on with industrial reforms, warning that she risks falling short on an election promise” – see: Unions urge Ardern to move on industrial relations reform.

According to this, “The delay has caused concerns within the union movement that the reforms may have slipped down Ms Ardern’s pecking order”, and Wagstaff complains that the “prime minister talked about two being down by the time of the election. That’s looking like an unrealistic target now and when she announced that it sounded modest”.

Labour-aligned commentator Josie Pagani went on TVNZ’s Q+A programme last night, giving her verdict on what is going wrong for the party: “people think the country’s on the right track. Unemployment’s low, inflation’s low, interest rates are low. So it has to be something around people just not feeling like enough is being done, and when it is being done that it’s not being done competently” – see: Kiwis seeing Government ‘doesn’t know what it’s doing’ says Simon Bridges as National rises in 1News poll.

TVNZ’s political editor has some similar analysis about the lack of delivery by Labour: “We’re not seeing those big, expensive election promises being doled out yet. And there have been a number of issues that haven’t played out well for the Government” – see Jessica Mutch McKay’s Government that’s lost some ‘excitement’ sees voters ‘looking to National’.

Mutch McKay says: “I think the big thing is that we’re two years in for this Government and it’s just not quite as exciting as it was before. So people are looking to National”. Furthermore, the sexual assault allegations and how they have been handled by Labour are possibly damaging the party: “Labour has lost votes from middle aged women, suggesting the issue didn’t play well with them.”

Similarly, Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien focused on Labour’s non-delivery this year in explaining their current polling decline, as well as pointing to the various crises besetting Ardern’s administration. She says: “Jacinda Ardern’s personal popularity has been tarnished by a cacophony of cock-ups and controversies.”

Here’s her main point: “For a while, the rise and rise of Jacinda Ardern seemed unstoppable. She had political capital to burn – but then she started blazing it up. The Prime Minister and her party have been beset by a string of scandals and controversies, including the Labour sexual assault investigation, failing first-home buyers, the land dispute at Ihumātao and KiwiBuild flopping.”

The Herald’s Claire Trevett also explains what’s gone wrong for the Government: “Over the past two months, Labour churned out publicity material and online advertisements about the Government’s achievements. But it has struggled to dampen negative publicity about programmes such as KiwiBuild and to get over internal problems, such as its handling of allegations against a staffer. The most damaging element of that is in not the details about who did what. Rather it is damaging because it raises the question of whether a party that cannot run itself can run the country” – see: Polls put Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges in white-knuckle ride to election (paywalled).

In contrast, Trevett says the poll “marks the end of a strong couple of months for [Simon] Bridges and National, who have hammered home messages on business confidence and government effectiveness.”

She also makes a good point about the increase in undecided voters at the moment: “The 1 News poll also showed how much ground is still in play. The percentage of undecided voters had rocketed from 13 per cent to 18 per cent. That means almost one in five voters are going begging with less than a year until the election. All parties will be now preparing their engines to try to get them.”

Newstalk ZB’s Barry Soper has drawn parallels between the poll results and the downfall of Wellington mayor Justin Lester, saying that the Government could suffer the same fate as him – a Labour mayor losing after only one term in a Labour city – see: Worrying signs for Labour as Jacinda Ardern disowns Justin Lester. He also comments that the PM’s performance has been “great on the international stage, but far from stellar on the home front”.

For the AM Show’s Duncan Garner, the latest poll results are hardly a surprise given the lack of progress achieved this year by Labour: “Ardern was promising the year of delivery but it’s mid-October now and we’re still waiting by the letterbox” and “this Government has been found out big on talk, little to show for it” – see: Labour Government is big on talk with little to show for it.

Similarly, Newstalk ZB morning host Mike Hosking says: “Where Labour are so badly compromised is in delivery. They are a mess. Let’s not go down the list, but this is a Government whose reputation is now confirmed by polls to be a lot of noise and not a lot of delivery. The voters are calling them out” – see: Political polls confirm Labour Government is a lot of noise and not a lot of delivery.

Although it’s bad news for Labour that the party is losing votes to National, Hosking says he doesn’t believe the Newshub poll’s even worse ratings for Labour, calling it a “rogue poll”.

It’s actually the 1News poll that will be more alarming to Labour, according to Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva, given it “shows National able to govern with Act” – see: Ardern still standing, but shaken by duo of poor polls.

Sachdeva says the scandal over the sexual assault allegations has obviously hurt both the PM and the Government, but “there are also problems on the policy front, with KiwiBuild beset by failure and broader concerns from left and right about the Government’s failure to invest in infrastructure and public services.”

Finally, is Labour being hurt by its ideological cautiousness? That’s the argument being put today by leftwing commentator Chris Trotter, who argues that both the party’s leadership and its cheerleaders are too invested in bland and centrist ways of thinking about politics, and this is ultimately turning voters off – see: Losing Labour’s Mills-Tone.