Despite some gains, the Opposition has no great advantage

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Jo Moir

Jo Moir

Wellington, September 28, 2021

                                                                                                                             (Image Courtesy: Newshub)

ACT Party Leader David Seymour is winning Poll after Poll in recent months but rearranging the deck chairs on the Opposition ship is not going to sink the government.

Monday (September 27, 2021) night’s 1News Colmar Brunton Poll has National and Labour both down while ACT’s star continues to rise.

Hellish time for Judith Collins

It has been hellish few weeks for National, in particular its Leader Judith Collins.

She has moved from one distraction to the next – taking a stab at anything and everything, like a blindfolded child hopelessly trying to pin the tail on a donkey.

National MPs have got good at holding onto their seats as Poll results roll in.

I tis no longer a fear of falling from the thirties to the twenties –it is now waiting to see how low the number after the two is.

You only need to look to former Leader Simon Bridges to see how a Poll can end a leadership – he was rolled after hitting 29, a number Collins would celebrate right now.

Monday’s Poll would have actually brought some relief with National down three points to 26% (at this point anything above 25% is good news).

And the Party was not alone, with Labour also dropping by 3% to 43%.

That is where ACT comes in; up five points to 14%, with Greens stable on 8%.

ACT leader David Seymour is also well ahead of Collins now in the preferred Prime Minister rankings on 11% to Collins’ 5%, while Chris Luxon and Bridges are nipping at her heels on 3% and 2% respectively.

While on paper this is bad news for National and good news for ACT, it does nothing to change the Opposition landscape at all.

Former Prime Minister Sir John Key (RNZ Photo by Dan Cook)

No change in landscape

Across the three latest Polls in the last month the centre-right share (National and ACT) has been between 36% and 40%, while the centre-left share (Labour and Greens) is between 51% and 55%.

The lowest point of the spectrum for the centre-right share was the Curia Poll, carried out by traditional National Party Pollster David Farrar, while the highest (40%) was Monday night’s Poll.

A third result, conducted by Labour’s Pollster Talbot Mills Research (formerly UMR) had the centre-right on 39% and the centre-left on 51%.

The government will look to those numbers and take comfort that even at its highest, its competition is still more than 10% behind.

The rise of Sir John Key

Of greater concern to the government will be the re-emergence of Sir John Key – the only other political figure with historical favourability ratings matching Ardern’s.

His comment piece on Sunday (September 26, 2021) calling out the government’s Covid response puts Ardern in a far more difficult position than anything any current National or ACT MP writes or says.

That is because Key resonates with middle New Zealand – the exact voters Ardern well and truly won over at last year’s election – and the same voters that make Ardern vulnerable if they choose to look elsewhere.

Key is not a Member of Parliament but has star power and what he says counts for something.

And he has not given up on National, even if the current Leader is not his preferred option (it seemed telling that Key mentioned Seymour by name, but not Collins, in his column at the weekend).

There are two schools of thought on Key’s motivations depending on which version of the former Prime Minister you prefer.

If you believe that Key is incredibly strategic and deliberate about every move he makes, then it is plausible that his comments – just days before Collins is set to release her own Party’s Covid response plan – were designed to undermine her.

Reaching out through media

If, however, you see Key as a happy-go-lucky type who just says and does things in the moment, then it is perfectly reasonable to believe that he did not know Collins’ plans and thought that his comments might be helpful to the Party.

Where that argument falls down is Key providing the opinion piece to news outlets mid-last week and the way in which he made sure it went far and wide.

He then followed up those reckons with blanket media interviews through Sunday, and on Monday morning, after he found out he had cut Collins’ lunch.

Seymour’s Strategy

One thing is for certain – Seymour’s intentions.

Announcing on Monday night that he is rolling out a third version of his Party’s Covid response plan on Tuesday, a day ahead of Collins’ plan, is strategic.

And why not? ACT is soaring in the Polls.

Seymour would be mad not to try and capitalise on a National Party wiling away on life support, only a few missteps away from cardiac arrest.

The opportunity to jump on the Key train has captured the attention of Ardern’s former deputy, Winston Peters.

The relationship between Key and Peters is notoriously a sour one, going back to when Key ruled out working with Peters ahead of the 2008 election.

Winston back on the scene

Peters has popped up from his Whananaki retreat in the past fortnight with regular attacks on the Government’s response, and on Monday publicly supported Key’s comments.

In typical Peters’ fashion he suggested that Key had in fact jumped on his train by using the “smug hermit kingdom’’ phrase regarding New Zealand’s locked down state.

Peters’ recent attacks have not bothered Ardern, who has fobbed them off saying that he made similar comments when their two Parties were in coalition together.

Dismissing Peters is easy, for now at least, while his Party is out of Parliament and Polling below 5%.

As for Key’s newfound interest in reviving the National Party, whether it is Collins or someone else at the helm, it is a hobby that Ardern will be hoping that he would quickly find boring.

Jo Moir is Political Editor at Newsroom based in Wellington. The above article has been published under a Special Agreement.

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