Monday 18 April 2022

Out Of The Picture: What If Roy Morgan’s Calling It Right?

Exit Stage Right: If the next round of opinion polls reveal a level of Labour support beginning with a “2”, what would happen then?

WHAT DOES THE LATEST Roy Morgan poll tell us about the future of the Sixth Labour Government? Technically speaking, it tells us nothing. All it describes, statistically, is the balance of electoral forces in New Zealand at the time the poll was taken. If a general election was actually scheduled for tomorrow, then the numbers would be instructive. Since that event is, in reality, roughly eighteen months away, all Roy Morgan’s data is good for is providing fodder for political speculation.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

What is indisputable about the series of Roy Morgan polls undertaken since the 2020 General Election is that they record a steady decline in support for the Jacinda Ardern-led Labour Government. Labour’s current level of support, as measured by Roy Morgan, stands at 32 percent. That is not a comfortable number for either the Prime Minister, or her party. Indeed if the trend-line of which it now forms a part continues its relentless downward trajectory, then support for Labour will begin to haunt the very same territory that caused Ardern’s predecessor, Andrew Little, to step aside in favour of his deputy back in 2017.

It is important, at this point, to rehearse the extraordinary difference the elevation of Jacinda Ardern made to Labour’s fortunes. Just three years before the 2017 general election, Labour had recorded its worst election result since 1922. The hapless David Cunliffe had led Labour to a Party Vote of just 25.13 percent in 2014 – 11.76 percentage points below Ardern’s Party Vote of 36.89 percent. “Jacinda” restored Labour’s credentials as a viable rival for the Treasury Benches. Necessary, because people had started to wonder.

But, Ardern’s unlooked-for elevation to the role of Prime Minister, courtesy of Winston Peters and NZ First, and her stunning success at raising the expectations of an electorate which had almost forgotten what optimism felt like, distracted political commentators from the brutal fact that since the first MMP election in 1996, Labour had never managed to attract more than 41.26 percent of the Party Vote. Indeed, if Labour’s Party Vote between 1996 and 2017 is averaged out, the result is a modest 34 percent. Too low to secure the reins of government – without a lot of help.

And right now Labour is two percentage points below even that inadequate number. Not so good. But, if the next round of opinion polls reveal a level of Labour support beginning with a “2”, what would happen then?

Between now and election day 2023, the answer is, almost certainly: nothing. Ardern, loyal Labour soldier that she is, will stay at her post and do everything within her power to turn the situation around. Such is the residual strength of her political magic – especially the spell woven out of the miraculous and unprecedented 50.01 percent “Covid Victory” she won for Labour in 2020 – that none of her colleagues will take the bet that the party’s endangered irons cannot, somehow, be pulled out of the fire.

If her magic does run out, however, a number of Ardern’s Cabinet colleagues will quietly begin to interrogate their reflections on the possibility of replacing the incumbent.

Critical to the depletion of Ardern’s political capital will be the steady deterioration of the New Zealand economy. This is practically unavoidable given the perfect offshore economic storm of Covid-generated inflationary pressures, ongoing supply-chain disruptions, and a shooting-war in Europe.

Not that the New Zealand public will generously accept that the cost-of-living crisis they are living through is a global creation. Those are simply not the thoughts that run through the minds of supermarket shoppers when they pick up a head of Broccoli priced at $4.00, that only weeks before had been selling for $2.00. Voters live behind their country’s borders, not beyond them. Lack of electoral charity begins at home.

That Ardern’s Deputy-Prime Minister, Grant Robertson, is also her Finance Minister, means that a 2023 Labour election defeat will not only be sheeted home to the incumbent Prime Minister, but also to the person in charge of the nation’s finances. In this regard, Robertson is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. To bring the cost-of-living under control, the Finance Minister must allow the Reserve Bank to raise the price of money. High interest rates, however, can only lead to “the recession we have to have”. Not a prospect Covid-hit businesses and their employees are likely to welcome with open arms.

If the Sixth Labour Government goes down to defeat in 2023, then it must be assumed that any lingering thoughts about just one more Robertson run at the leadership will go down with it. Soufflés don’t rise a third time – not from the Dustbin of History.

Of this government’s leadership quartet of Ardern, Robertson, Chris Hipkins and Megan Woods: one, or both, of the duo left politically breathing in 2023 might be expected to have a crack at the top job.

At this point in the putative Game of Thrones, the smart money would have to be on “Chippy” Hipkins. Not only for his boyish likeability, but also for the fact that he is the last of the trio of “Clarkist” political advisers who have played such a crucial role in Labour’s fortunes between 2008 and the present. Certainly, he could anticipate the behind-the-scenes support of both Ardern and Robertson in any race for the leadership.

Because, of course, there will, almost certainly, be a race. If Labour’s caucus, defeated and depleted as it would be in the wake of a brutal election defeat, imposes a leader on the party rank-and-file it would set in motion precisely the same political machinery that spluttered into life following Caucus’s choice of David Shearer over the membership’s clear preference for David Cunliffe back in 2011. If the person imposed also just happened to be one of the leading lights of the “Anyone But Cunliffe” faction (i.e. Hipkins or Woods) matters would rapidly go from bad to worse.

And, for those who think that holding grudges for ten years is a little excessive, then just remember the bitterness of Louisa Wall’s valedictory. As a former Cunliffe supporter, she had no chance of a Cabinet seat. Purged from the ranks, she can join Charles Chauvel and Sue Moroney at the Chestnut Tree Café*. Memories in the Labour Party tend to be long-lived – and dangerous.

The singular failure of the Sixth Labour Government to achieve any of its self-selected goals (apart from getting New Zealanders through the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic) can only sharpen the perception, both in and out of Labour, that the New Zealand “Left” is in need of a damn good shake-up.

And if that takes the form of seeking out a leader with a track record of indisputably Labour policy initiatives – like Fair Pay Agreements – then the eyes of the party membership may end up turning to Michael Wood. Earnest and sincere, Wood may yet turn out to be the best fit for Labour’s electoral future. Personally, a social-conservative, but politically an economic radical, Wood could offer Labour members and voters an ideological package containing pretty much the opposite of the neo- and social-liberalism served up to them by the leadership that failed.

Pure speculation, of course, but Labour’s done stranger things.

* The Chestnut Tree Café features in George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four as the place where INGSOC party members who had fallen foul of Big Brother eked out the rest of their (usually dramatically shortened) lives.

This essay was originally posted on the website of Monday, 18 April 2022.


Kat said...

It is said a week in politics is a long time, what then is eighteen months. What the Roy Morgan polls are reflecting, if accurate, is how the electorate remains divided. If the same electorate can give a 50.01% MMP majority in 2020, supposedly as a thank you for managing the pandemic response and hence saving lives, then why not a similar percentage in 2023 for managing the cost of living crisis and saving business.

In the meantime here's a song that Jacinda may well be humming all the way to Asia and back:

David Stone said...

I'm not so sure that Jacinda will be around to contest the next election. If the election result, or polling continues this trend , i think she may feel she has done all she could and might as well have some family life like other people .
Also by then we will know more about the after effects of the vaccine and she might deem it meet to follow in Ashley's footsteps and get out of the kitchen.
But look at the transformative governance that is likely to be in train. Hopefully not yet enacted by the next election, but the three waters proposal is the kind of legislation that Grant needs a four year term to get through. Ie. enough time to force changes through that no body wants or voted for or was ever likely to. Left or right.
I think their priorities need to conform more with those of the electorate to hope to reverse the polling trend.
But getting back to Jacinda herself, she is far and away the most attractive individual they have to offer in that role. It is where the caucus is directing her to lead that is the problem. She is a great leader but it is time to look around and see if anyone is following.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

There is a somewhat visceral hatred of Ardern amongst some sectors of society, which I can't really understand except the must be some misogyny involved. It's funny when you see the comments on just about any story about her – doesn't matter what it is there's a big pile on in an effort to infantilise her – particularly by referring to her as "Cindy". Apparently it's due to the fact that "people have seen their jobs disappear and their families destroyed. Well, Jim Bolger saw to 1 of my jobs, and Bill English another. Apparently that doesn't matter – maybe because they were men. :)
And it's funny because apparently she's buggered businesses – except for almost anything but the tourism and hospitality industry, all of which seems to be thriving – but when she goes overseas to drum up a bit of custom for New Zealand businesses they don't like that either. No satisfying some people.

Odysseus said...

Loose monetary policy and excessive government spending have been the main drivers of inflation in New Zealand. COVID and Ukraine related supply line pressures have added to the fire. We are indeed going to have the "recession we need to have". Mortgage rates of 6% are also just around the corner, putting many home buyers under immense pressure.

The economic outlook for New Zealand over the next 18th months is poor. But it is Ardern's asssociation with He Pua Pua and the policies being implemented under it (segregated health, 3 Waters, the end of equal suffrage) that will drive Labour into well-deserved oblivion.

CXH said...

Interesting that you leave out the possibility of the strongest member of the labour caucus, Mahuta.

AB said...

Don't be spooked Chris. There is reason to believe that enough people will still realise that National/ACT will make all the serious problems we face much worse. And that Labour's extraordinarily good response to Covid provides a model for how to tackle those problems - particularly the climate crisis and the inequality crisis. (It is the latter that turns a temporary inflationary spike into a 'cost of living crisis').

But there is a third problem that intersects with these two - the fact that we are politically stuck. No political party seems willing or able to do what is necessary to fight these problems, despite the model of the Covid response being in front of our eyes. If people vote National simply out of feeling a bit fed up and deciding to give the other lot a turn, it will tell us that the sense of being stuck is so entrenched that nothing will change until disaster comes knocking.

David George said...

There is certainly some fiscal headwinds ahead that will make life difficult for any government - and for us of course. Not really covered in the legacy media but had a piece on it: "The Treasury said the RBNZ paid $7.2 billion more for the bonds than what they were originally issued for. This was recorded as a loss on the government’s balance sheet and resulted in an increase in net debt."
They put the direct loss to our government at over 5B but rising interest rates could blow that out substantially maybe the full 7B - that's half the education budget!

This is a big deal, why no real coverage of the treasury's and opposition's concerns? Little wonder that faith in the MSM continues to plummet: "64% say journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations."

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Hilarious. Five minutes before I read David's comment about the mainstream media not covering Treasury's concerns, I read a story in the mainstream media about Treasury's concerns. Enough said.

John Hurley said...

See this thread: "those rich people are gonna get it!"

They are talking about Remuera; I'm talking rundown 1950's bungalows on "the wrong side of Riccarton Road"

more durrr than dr @uppslidedown
Bro. It's not 'your' sunlight. Just like it's not 'your' on street parking.
If you don't like the fact that the house next door might be sold to developers, buy it yourself. Don't enforce the rest of the public to subsidize your incredibly privileged ideal standard of living.

Here's the point. The rich can escape; it is the poor who cannot. Bad housing is for generations.
NZ lifestyle was a freebie for it's working class.
The mantra of "needed skills" is actually Indians and Chinese middleclass escaping a degraded environment. They land at the top (Grammar zone);the money they bring is an economic stimulus. This is just making space for them and wealth for John and Max Key plus the $B export education supplies (shonkily).
Brian Easton notes that for a population (predicted for 2050) we will need 2.5 times the tourism services we had in 2019.

Brian Kennedy said...

A visceral hatred of Ardern is very easy to understand given that she has produced a hidden agenda which imposes on all non-Maori New Zealanders racist laws and major cultural and legal changes without any discussion, debate, consultation or consensus
-and most people resent it strongly - essentially, in what had previously been a pretty happy, united and harmonious country, she has introduced division and rancour - she is bad for New Zealand and the sooner she goes and is replaced by National/ACT or a more moderate Labour Government, the better for all New Zealand ! We don’t like petty dictators in New Zealand !

DS said...

There is a somewhat visceral hatred of Ardern amongst some sectors of society, which I can't really understand except the must be some misogyny involved.

Not misogyny, no. It's just some very powerful people in Business and Media angry that Covid sidelined them for so long. How dare the Government listen to health experts, and all that. A male Labour PM would face similar hatred.

DS said...

Loose monetary policy and excessive government spending have been the main drivers of inflation in New Zealand. COVID and Ukraine related supply line pressures have added to the fire. We are indeed going to have the "recession we need to have". Mortgage rates of 6% are also just around the corner, putting many home buyers under immense pressure.

If fiscal irresponsibility is the issue here, why are you lot so keen on massive unaffordable tax-cuts again?

Fact is, the underlying cause of the inflation is the (justified) QE in response to March 2020, an international phenomenon, combined with on-going supply-chain issues and now Ukraine. Inflation is an international problem right now, basically due to circumstances beyond the Government's control.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

DS ... I didn't make the misogyny comment out of the blue. Pretty much every Western country that had female leadership has seen over the top criticism of them. I still remember letters going to the Dominion Post about "the top three jobs in this country are held by women!!!!!!!!!!". Hillary Clinton was excoriated, the Finns had the same reaction, there was even some Tory reaction to Thatcher although as usual they kept it pretty private.
There seems to be something about women that drives hatred beyond the normal dislike of a Prime Minister from a party you don't like. Just this morning some arse made a comment expressing the wish that the plane that is bringing her back from Singapore crashes. Now I know this would not be said to her face, and it would not be said if whoever said it wasn't anonymous online, but it seems to me to be egregious.
According to one, it's because people have lost their jobs and had their lives ruined. Well, if we hung draw and quartered every Prime Minister who causes people to lose jobs ... but obviously these are not the people who are buying boats in huge numbers. :)
Now I'm sure that important business people are pissed off, but these are not them – I'm pretty sure they don't waste their time making shitty comments online.
I'll ignore the comment about hidden agendas. Something like that simply isn't worth replying to.

Unknown said...

Not directly related to this post, but strongly relevant to your blog more generally. Long but very very good:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It's time that Labour realised that no matter how much they stick to the neoliberal economic line, they are always going to be categorised as importing container loads of woke/gay/trans/post modern/commie/nonwhite people from shithole countries with a capacity for mindless violence, in order to undermine our culture and patriotism.

Jays said...

Adern and her sycophants are blaming Russia for the inflationary pressure but the truth is that Adern trashed our economy and spent like Nicholas Cage on speed and that is where the majority of our economic woes come from.
Adern has damaged this country with her air headed "leadership" far worse than Muldoon ever did.

sumsuch said...

Louisa Wall, from Labour sources, seems to've alienated her electorate also. But yeah, apart from their competence in crises -- we never doubted their PR and ordinary government-running competence -- they even don't live up to their own manifesto ideals.

Still haven't found out whether their action to lessen the children's commissioner's mandate is down to he/she pointing out their failure so pointedly on child poverty. Just by Jacinda's blindness on child poverty, holding such two so distant ideas, the PR principle and focus group fuckery, in her head I have no time for her. If that is the reason they're undermining the role then it's bargepole time.