Bob Jones: Cunliffe's KO'd before the fight starts

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Labour party leader David Cunliffe. Photo / Michael Craig
Labour party leader David Cunliffe. Photo / Michael Craig

If this election was a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the fight months back given the non-stop punishment and eight counts David Cunliffe's taken.

But it's not, and although rare, there are examples of fighters taking a shellacking round after round, then pulling off a shock KO punch, late victory.

That needs qualification, however. There's certainly no cases of a fighter repeatedly being floored by his own self-inflicted blows, as has occurred with Cunliffe. In those circumstances he'd be disqualified for bringing the sport into disrepute.

Other sports offer the battered Labour leader more hope with last minute come-from-behind victories, particularly rugby, tennis and football. But seeking solace from sporting history, Cunliffe will derive most from the greatest game of all, namely test cricket. It shares a significant feature with politics, unique in sport but part of its allure, namely in not being contested fairly. Winning the toss can be crucial; likewise a weather change can make a huge difference favouring one side.

So too with politics, the governing party having an inbuilt advantage, this reversing after three terms when voters seek fresh faces. That's hardly the case with the Key government, moreso as Labour's proffered fresh faces are tokenistic unknowns. Also, bad weather is traditionally bad for Labour.

Putting aside John Key tossing it in to become a Hare Krishna, to cause an upset Labour must target the middle floating voters and the non-voting lower-income sector. With the floating voters, a devastating rout over John Key in the televised leaders' debate would make a difference. That's unlikely; indeed the opposite is more probable.

Still, remember 2002 after Peter Dunne impressed in the leaders' debate and ended up with nine MPs -- most, one suspects, hitherto unknown to him. But the polls suggest National's support is firmly intact and the votes up for grabs are those Labour's lost. If Cunliffe tries to buy these with targeted largesse expenditure, as he's doing, then he could lose more as increasingly voters appreciate it's their money politicians are offering to spend. This irresponsibility simply consolidates National's marketed image of being financially prudent. In targeting the elderly with doctor visits paid by taxpayers, Cunliffe invades Winston's support base, yet he cannot form a government without New Zealand First reaching 5 per cent and throwing its support behind Labour.

Using Matt McCarten as the master tactician plainly hasn't worked. Matt's imagery is vintage 1935, which may be a contributing factor in the disastrous polls. His purported skill is getting out the vote with the non-voting low-income sector, although there's no evidence of significant past general election successes.

Reverting to sporting parallels and this election, during Muhammad Ali's long career, wherever he fought, an accompanying entourage of flashy black men with their dazzling mistresses were there. Bedecked in appallingly bad-taste, massive chunky gold necklaces and rings (that's the men; the women were elegant), they arrived at the fight destination a week early. They weren't boxing aficionados or Ali fans but instead professional gamblers who were living the high-life through exploiting a standard human foible relevant to this election. That is to rationalise an outcome aligned to one's wishes, despite the overwhelming evidence against it. Thus, when Ali fought an obviously inferior opponent with absolutely no chance, they'd offer odds so extreme the opponent's died-in-the-wool fan base would succumb to temptation and be in it. It was like offering a million to one against night following day. Do that and silly buggers would be in it, just as with the Ali betting cottage industry.

Similar wishful thinking is occurring with Labour supporters despite the election outcome appearing a foregone conclusion. The pundits are obliged to write about it, thus persist with endless rationalisations as to why, despite the polls but through minor party machinations, there could be a Labour government. Meanwhile, Labour's increasingly despairing faithful, the equivalent of those long-odds fans of Ali's opponents, fill talk-back and the internet with their delusions. Ali did eventually lose to Leon Spinks in a huge upset but it cost those gamblers nothing, for Spinks had no devoted fan base to be seduced by what would have been extraordinarily long odds. That result was analogous to Colin Craig becoming Prime Minister. If the TAB was offering wagers on the election they'd probably be offering about five to one against a Labour victory, and as with Ali's opponents' deluded fans, would find plenty of takers.

The prohibition on them offering bets on elections or anything other than sport is regretful. What a pleasure if one could bang a tenner on whether Winston will get up again, or on Labour or the Conservatives' percentage vote, or who will win the Napier seat, and endless other contingencies. It would certainly add a fun dimension to a contest now tiresome given its obvious outcome.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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