Bogus? So devastating was the latest One News/Colmar Brunton poll result for Labour that the Opposition leader, Andrew Little, declared it "bogus". In desperation, Labour released its own - vastly more encouraging - internal poll data from UMR Research. Unfortunately, in political terms, this is a bit like presenting an affidavit testifying to your beauty and intelligence, signed by your Mum.
ANDREW LITTLE has described the latest One News-Colmar Brunton poll as “bogus”. He insists that “other polls” show the Labour Party doing much better than Colmar Brunton’s figure of 26 percent.
It’s a comment that recalls the famous World War I cartoon in which two British soldiers are depicted taking cover in a shell-crater in the middle of No Man’s Land. “If you know of a better hole,” says the first soldier to the second, “then go to it.” Little’s statement merits a similar dose of mordant humour: “If you know of a better poll, Andrew, then show it.” (And, no, that is not an invitation to show us your own!)
Regardless of its severity, it was tactically foolish of Little to deny the accuracy of Colmar Brunton’s latest survey. The Labour Leader should have anticipated that National’s chief pollster, David Farrar, would have all the relevant facts and figures at his fingertips. With impish glee, Farrar swiftly posted these on his Kiwiblog website:
“At the last election in September 2014 this same poll [Colmar Brunton] had Labour at 25.2%. They got 25.1%. They were very accurate for Labour. In fact it was National they got a bit wrong with a poll of 45.1% vs an actual election result of 47.0%”
When presented with terrible news, it is perfectly natural for human-beings to take refuge in denial. The reactions of ordinary human-beings are not, however, available to those who aspire to political leadership. Upon hearing the poll result, it was Little’s duty to thrust aside his disappointment and deliver a response that would help, rather than hinder, his party’s cause.
The most obvious rejoinder to a poll showing the Government’s opponents severally commanding 50 percent of the Party Vote would be to emphasise the enormous political cost of disunity. Little should have pointed to the National Party’s consistent success in rallying centre-right voters behind a single banner – its own. He should then have invited centre-left voters to imagine the outcome if, instead of dividing their support between Labour (26 percent) the Greens (13 percent) and NZ First (11 percent), they had followed the example of their right-wing counterparts and swung their support decisively behind the largest opposition party.
How differently the story would be presented if, instead of languishing in the mid-20s, Labour was seen to be level-pegging with National. Would David Farrar be responding to that sort of result with impish glee? Probably not.
Enter the massive strategic problem created by Labour’s decision to negotiate a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MoU) with the Greens. In signing that MoU, Little and his colleagues were effectively admitting that their party’s former, dominant position on the centre-left was irrecoverable. They were also denying Labour the “Unity is Strength!” rallying cry that National used to such good effect in 2005, and which has served them so well in every election since.
It is worth recalling here how tempting it must have been for National to similarly surrender its electoral primacy. It had, after all, sustained a much worse defeat in 2002 than Labour’s 2014 debacle. At just 21 percent, National’s Party Vote could easily have persuaded Bill English and his colleagues to embrace the politics of permanent coalition. This was what the logic of MMP dictated: National and Labour simply had to accept that the days of parties registering support in the high-40s had gone forever.
Tell that to John Key! The latest Colmar Brunton poll gives National 48 percent of the Party Vote – exactly the same figure Key’s party was registering on Election Night 2014. For a party approaching the end of its third term in government, that is little short of miraculous!
Apart from the strategic blunder of the MoU, what else explains Labour’s failure to recover its electoral primacy? The answer is brutally simple. Unlike Don Brash in 2004-05, neither Andrew Little, nor his predecessors, have been willing to embrace the sort of policies demanded by their party’s electoral base.
Since 1984, no Labour leader (with the honourable exception of Jim Anderton) has unreservedly and steadfastly repudiated the ideological underpinnings of Rogernomics. A speech from Andrew Little in which he acknowledges the devastation wrought by Rogernomics, and spelling out how he proposes to right the wrongs it inflicted on working-class Kiwis, would almost certainly produce a similar galvanising effect as Brash’s 2004 speech to the Orewa Rotary Club.
And a much better poll.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 September 2016.