Some CEOs see an alliance of Labour and the Greens, headed by rising stars, forming a viable government

Labour's Jacinda Ardern and the Greens' James Shaw are rating well with CEOs, but Andrew Little is under the half-way point.

Just one year out from the next general election and Opposition Leader Andrew Little is still failing to cut the mustard as far as chief executives are concerned.

Chief executive respondents to the Herald's 2016 CEOs survey ranked Little's performance over the past year at 2.22/5 on a weighted average basis.

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He just scraped into the Opposition "First 15", ranked at number 14 among the Opposition MPs and was superseded by nine of his colleagues including Labour MP David Shearer (2.72/5), a former party leader.

CEOs rated leading Opposition MPs' performance over the past year on a scale of 1-5 where 1 equals not impressive and 5 equals very impressive. Consistent with last year's Mood of the Boardroom survey, Labour's Jacinda Ardern tops the list of Opposition MPs, as rated by CEOs, closely followed by Green co-leader James Shaw.

"The Labour leadership is still unpersuasive," said a senior legal executive. "James Shaw has great credibility."

Both Ardern, who is Labour's small business spokesperson, and Shaw, who is the Green's economic spokesperson, have achieved significant cut-through with the senior business community over the past year.

But if the 2016 ratings are not bad enough for Little, he was also out-ranked by three other major opposition party leaders: Shaw, who at 3.21/5 was ranked second on the list just below Ardern on 3.37/5; NZ First Leader Winston Peters (2.90/5) and Greens Co-Leader Mitiria Turei (2.37/5).

Little has struggled to make pace against Prime Minister John Key. He is well-regarded by some chief executives who dealt with him when he was a top union leader and engaged with major corporates on initiatives to drive productivity gains.

Unfortunately those qualities have yet to fully register in the cut-throat political world.

Chief executives commented that is is difficult to rate Opposition MPs as some politicians have little if any visibility.

This was reflected in the survey ratings where many chief executives were "unsure" about the performance of some Opposition MPs and opted not to score them.

For instance, while 90 per cent of CEOs awarded a performance ranking to Ardern -- just 10 per cent were "unsure".

Jacinda Ardern is Labour's small business spokesperson.
Jacinda Ardern is Labour's small business spokesperson.

For Shaw the comparable "unsure" factor was 13 per cent.

CEOs also had the measure of other well-known MPs with just seven ticking the "unsure" box for King; Peters (6 per cent); Robertson (6 per cent); and Little (2 per cent).

But the "unsure" factor should be of concern to others who have yet to gain or enhance their traction with business: Twyford (20 per cent), Davis (27 per cent), Shearer (17 per cent), Parker (21 per cent), Hipkins (29 per cent), Genter ( 42 per cent), Turei (16 per cent), Clark (44 per cent) and Mark (21 per cent).

Given some of these -- including Clark who is Labour's trade spokesperson -- will be central to a future Labour-led government, it is important that they do enhance their visibility.

Labour has started holding soirees with the leading lights of the business community in both Auckland and at parliament in Wellington. But needs to do more.

Andrew Little is seen as under the half-way point with CEOs.
Andrew Little is seen as under the half-way point with CEOs.

"The Opposition and its MPs have struggled to get real traction in many respects as the Government looks to dominate the middle ground and leaves little opportunity for others to take a material foothold," said Deloitte CEO Thomas Pippos.

That said, while the majority of National's top MPs have had their performance scores wane in this year's survey, many senior Opposition MPs have seen theirs increase.

In a parallel universe (or perhaps another six years), an alliance headed by Ardern and Shaw could hold the key to an Opposition dream team.

But until then, CEOs are split as to whether the recently announced Labour-Greens alliance will help the Opposition challenge the Government at the 2017 election.

• 30 per cent think the alliance will help -- so long as a well-articulated vision and reasonable economic policy can be crafted. These are currently perceived as non-existent. Policies are still seen as "too unclear", with "no real alignment or direction".

• 40 per cent think the alliance will not help the Opposition -- with those CEOs suggesting it will instead "push Labour further left" to the detriment of the party, and "be difficult to make work cohesively given the cast of characters".

• 31 per cent of CEOs are unsure: "It hasn't felt compelling yet -- but this could arguably all change as we enter an election year."

Mainfreight managing director Don Braid said if Labour and the Greens together create reasonable economic policy "there is a chance they could challenge the Government".

KiwiRail's Peter Reidy noted the "vision needs to be very clear and well articulated".

Some CEOs were sceptical:

"It is difficult to see this working cohesively given the cast of characters and that the unions effectively run Labour" -- exporting firm head.

"Labour cannot agree things internally anyway, let alone hold a coherent partnership with a third party which is getting frustrated by being in permanent opposition" -- energy firm boss.

A media boss cautioned the election might throw a spanner in the plan: "While the alliance is pre-agreed on paper and announced, each party will still want to fight its own fight and 'win' as much as they can, potentially at the other's expense."