Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Little’

Strap on your jetpack and leave, apparently. Andrew Little painted himself into a corner, commiting an unforced error by admitting he “offered to resign.” (but didn’t “offer to resign”) This is the sort of unprofessional slip-up we’ve come to expect from Andrew Little, but listening to his interview, you can tell he was trying to inartfully say that he laid his head on the chopping block for accountability and nobody decided they wanted to pick up the axe.

Politics editors all over the country were likely set to run a whole weeks worth of “will he should he” resign stories, and Little has done a strangely brave thing by simply pre-empting that discussion with an actual resignation. It’s a bit of a gamble: it brings back the “Labour is constantly changing its leader” criticism which Little had, largely, killed off during his tenure. On the other hand, he was looking very embattled, and his communications strategy clearly wasn’t working. I’m no comms manager, but even I could see that he was making amateur mistakes in interviews and taking punches when he didn’t even need to be in the ring. You could tell his heart was in it, but Little was dog tired.

I actually discussed last night what should happen after that interview, and said that whoever was responsible should quit, assuming it wasn’t Andrew Little. Well, apparently someone had the same first part of that thought.

But here’s the good news: Jacinda is now leader, and she’s set up in another Mike Moore type situation, except hers is a little easier to climb out of, because whatever your criticisms of Labour recently, it’s not in as dire a state as it was after Rogernomics. She seemed confident and at ease. She oozed confidence even when the media threw recent polling in her face, something that always tripped up Andrew Little. “Are you going to tell me I can’t?” she fired back to questions of Labour’s credibility to lead the government at 24%, and suddenly the adversarial nature broke slightly. This is not a woman to be trifled with, whatever your criticisms of her. She communicated with the media genuinely, effortlessly, and with humour. She looked like a leader, and as Clark has shown, Labour voters like a brainy woman in charge. I haven’t always been firmly on team Jacinda, but her press conference was impressive. She’s said she’s going to take stock for 72 hours, then start coming back with any changes needed. The Māori Party has already reached out, and new deputy Kelvin Davis1 managed to be reasonably graceful in saying he would listen but he wanted them to do better than they’d done under National, which is the height of reasonableness given that they were trying to engineer a Mana/Hone Harawira win in his electorate.

Metiria’s welfare announcement made me feel like the Green Party has turned a leaf, inspiring the base and pulling in new voters to the Green Party. Seeing Jacinda’s first moves as leader, ironically, I’m beginning to feel like stepping down as leader may end up being one of the best things Andrew Little could have done for the campaign, as desperate as it could be painted. Labour now has room to make the rhetorical turn it has desperately needed for months. It’s only 6-8% to go before the coalition equals National in the polls, and the under-covered story in recent polling is that National is still leaking support.

For the first time I can look at both opposition parties and feel like there are genuine messengers at the helm who are effective and getting things done. It is uphill from here, but I’m cautiously optimistic. We’ve all known Jacinda was being groomed for this, and after Clark, expectations on what it means to be a woman leading the opposition or the government are high. But so far, Jacinda seems to be smashing through the glass ceiling perfectly well, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I didn’t even find myself comparing her to Clark, which is high praise, because I constantly did so with Goff, Shearer, and Little. I look forward to seeing how she handles the campaign.

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I’m sure we’re going to see some very excited pollsters looking to be the first to compare Bill English and Andrew Little. (It’s probably going to be Colmar Brunton in first, as they’re the only ones who have been regularly running polls, but I expect the leadership change will prompt the bit players to show up suddenly)

In advance of that, (because saying it afterwards doesn’t have the same impact) and as someone who is frequently on record as saying that polling is relatively accurate1, I would like to remind people that Preferred PM almost literally means nothing. Almost the only important part of NZ polls is the party vote question, which actually has some reasonable predictive power for the general election.

Preferred PM also doesn’t do a particularly good job of predicting who will be in Government, (most PMs lose the Treasury benches while still being more popular than the other person, because a PM is usually more popular than their party as a whole) rather it’s more an indicator of whether a leadership coup is likely for either the Government or the opposition. The only time it generally means anything is if the Leader of the Opposition actually overtakes the PM during the election campaign and stays consistently ahead, in which case, we would expect a change of government because that’s a Big Deal.

It’s also a metric that behaves a little differently for left-wing and right-wing leaders. The Left tends to not be very keen on uniting. (which, fortunately, is actually an advantage under MMP, so long as all your parties are over-threshold or winning an electorate) The Right loves it, so long as they view their leaders as successful, so even if you restricted answers to actual leaders of political parties, (which pollsters do not, it’s an open question, hence why Helen Clark kept showing up even after she was long gone) you would still likely get a bunch of people saying they want Winston Peters or Metiria Turei or even Hone Harawera to be PM, wheras even Bill English’s previous preferred PM polling leading up to his disastrous loss was still higher than Labour’s has been in opposition.

What will be interesting in the upcoming preferred PM results is how many people simply answer John Key because they don’t follow politics. I expect John Key will fall off the preferred PM polls faster than Helen Clark did, but he will probably show up at a significant level for at least the next two.

So, even if Little outperforms English in the next Preferred PM poll, remember:

  • That’s only important if English is actually enough of a drag on the Party Vote to bring Labour into fighting distance of forming a Government.
  • A lot of people won’t be able to name Bill English unprompted just yet, even if they think he’s not doing badly.
  • There won’t really have been time for more than an initial impression, and it’s actually more important how the trend shows up over time. (ie. whether Little and the Opposition in general start gaining ground over time)

And likewise, if English outperforms Little, that doesn’t even necessarily mean he’s on his way for a win, just that he hasn’t immediately lost all of National’s former support. There’s still a possibility that his support will trend downwards if people want to give him a chance but don’t like what they see as time goes on.

This is also why Bill English rather smartly has ruled out commenting on the timing of the next election until next year, as he will want to see not only how National is polling immediately after the transition, but he’ll want to see whether the government’s poll numbers, both in internals and public polling, are moving up or down. If it’s down, expect an early election, if it’s up in early polling, expect to wait.

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So, with Bill English and Paula Bennett now anointed by the National caucus as our new leaders, the pre-campaign is now off to its start. In the drivers’ seat, we have the man who lead National to its worst-ever loss, and beside him probably the second-most despised woman in National’s caucus, which is more of an achievement than it sounds because Judith Collins.

On the other side of the aisle, Andrew Little can’t help but being pleased by the news of who he’s up against. (And I imagine Annette King and/or Metiria Turei are keenly eying Paula Bennet’s seat for 2017…) With Labour taking back the Wellington Mayoralty from a Green-aligned independent, (basically by default, as no Green was running, and Wellington is basically the most left-wing liberal place in the country right now) and it winning the latest by-election in what was essentially a straight contest between National and Labour, Little probably feels resurgent right now. And that’s a dangerous feeling.

There is an opinion piece on the Herald that is just close enough to being right on this that it’s worth linking. Heather correctly points out that while English is a record-breaking loser, (performing even worse than Labour has during its constant leadership struggles) he lost to an ascendant Helen Clark coming off her first term. Little might have the chops to be Prime Minister, but he’s no second-term Clark just yet. (and hopefully, he won’t try to be- while Clark was a successful Prime Minister, she set a precedent as PM that has infected the Labour Party with careerists who are unwilling to step aside and accept a renewal. Little needs to be his own type of leader if he’s to succeed) This is still an election Little can lose, even though English makes even Little’s off-days look vibrant and interesting by comparison.

Heather is wrong to say that Labour can’t snag some of the fleeing National voters who will, inevitably, leave the party fold after Key’s resignation. In fact, I suspect Labour will likely get a 1% bump even without trying from the news, as there were many Key supporters who had come from Labour’s tribe and supported Labour values. At least some of those people will look at their options and conclude that now is the time to re-enter the fold as Labour supporters. It could even be more than a 1% bump if Little can come up with an appealing positive vision for Labour heading into 2020. But Heather is absolutely right to imply that much of the loss from National is likely to either head towards NZ First or simply into the non-voter pile, at least in the next couple of polls.

Speaking of polling, all the 2016 trends before now are essentially out the window. (And we’ll have no way of knowing if the recent surge for National after a slow trend towards Labour and the Greens for much of 2016 was temporary or semi-permanent, as we’re now all expecting a noticable falloff in the Government’s polling this month anyway) We are looking at a different government now, no matter how much National wishes to maintain continuity. Heather is wrong to keep bashing Labour over the head with recent polling. We should be waiting and seeing where they poll after Key’s resignation in terms of looking at horse race results, and those numbers aren’t going to be out until we’re well into the holiday season, so there’s really no room for numbers-based reporting until then.

Nick Legett’s defection, seen by mainstream pundits as somehow a reflection on Labour, really says a lot more about what a centrist sell-out Nick Legett is, and why Wellington so soundly rejected him. He belongs in the National Party, and always did as far as I’m concerned. Good riddance to bad rubbish, the Left doesn’t need pretenders taking up space in its ranks, and National needs more moderate liberals to adjust to the new political consensus John Key has forged, where National can no longer win by selling themselves as a purely right-wing party. John Key’s political legacy, arguably, is ceding the war to the Left in order to win the battle: a concession that conservative right-wing governments in an MMP era is asking too much of a liberal, centrist electorate.

Heather’s also wrong to take issue with Little’s comments about “not knowing what the centre is.” He’s actually being reasonably savvy here- Centre voters love to be talked about in terms of being politically unlabelled, defying the conventional wisdom, and being just ordinary people. In its full context, Little was actually pandering to the centre while simultaneously saying he’s not trying to and managing to sound honest at the same time. By the standards of new-millennium kiwi political rhetoric, (hint: those are pretty low thanks to our former Prime Minister, and his predecessor wasn’t exactly one for rhetoric even though she was an excellent politician) this was practically masterful.

Little should also know that the advice to go hard for the centre is bad advice. Labour performs its worst when it’s self-conscious about where it is positioning itself. If it wants to be the nexus of a left-wing government in 2017, Little will need to lead Labour towards its own electoral identity, one with a populist appeal to working and struggling New Zealanders, that can plausibly say it will do better for ordinary kiwis than National. It should be picking policies that resonate with Labour’s identity, not because they think they will sell well to the centre. If Cunliffe showed anything positive about New Zealand politics, it’s that people are willing to be persuaded to policies they disagree with if they’re told how they’ll benefit the public, and that the electorate does have respect for politicians who will tell them things like they are.

Little doesn’t necessarily need the politics of the Centre to win, although he’d be wise to keep a big tent. He needs a politics of honesty and integrity. There are missing and demotivated voters out there who have been waiting to hear a left-wing message from Labour too, and if Little can get them without scaring away the centre as well, then his confidence may not be misplaced.