Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Key wipes off smirk and Greens can grin

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Russel Norman and Metiria Turei have every reason to be pleased.  Photo / Greg Bowker
Russel Norman and Metiria Turei have every reason to be pleased. Photo / Greg Bowker

There's a reason they say a week is a long time in politics. That's because in politics anything can change in a week. And it did.

The not-so-subtle smirks we've had to endure from Prime Minister John Key would have gone whiter and tighter when he picked up his New Zealand Herald on Friday morning.

The narrative of the campaign until now has been that Key was waltzing to victory and on track to have even more National MPs than he has now, while Labour disintegrated, realising that many in their caucus would be looking for new jobs after November 26.

Friday's Herald-DigiPoll changed that. It's the first credible poll showing that National has dipped below 50 per cent support.

Scarily for Key, the drop was a whopping 5 per cent dive in just one week.

No one really expects National not to be in government after election day and, even based on Friday's surprise bad poll, National will still comfortably rule alone.

Labour optimists will convince themselves the poll is a game-changer for them. But no such luck. The poll shows more bad news for them too. Phil Goff's party continues its depressing slide and now seems permanently marooned below 30 per cent.

In fact, there is a real possibility that if the polls drift any further there will come a tipping point where Labour's vote collapses like National's did under Bill English's leadership in 2002, when they could manage only a derisory 21 per cent.

Goff's biggest fear must be that if his soft supporters think Labour has no chance they may flick over to the Greens (as many of them have already) or to Winston Peter, which some of them may be doing now.

Even worse, if its working-class support gives up and stays at home, it could be a massacre. Hopefully, Friday's poll has stopped that happening.

The Greens deservedly go from strength to strength. In previous elections, their support was flaky and they faltered in the last week. But everywhere there's a sense that more mainstream voters are considering voting for them.

Even National supporters tell me that it's important to have the Greens around.

With Labour's disconnect with the electorate, there's a feeling that it's quite possible the Greens will clear 15 per cent, making them the most successful third party ever.

Despite what some of my left-wing mates tell me, the Greens won't go into formal coalition with National.

However, if Key can govern without them anyway, Russel Norman and Metiria Turei may as well reach some sort of limited policy deal with him.

That's better than sitting on the backbenches with a defeated Labour Party for another term, twiddling their thumbs.

The other potential poll winner is the old Houdini himself, Winston Peters. The old bodgie will be relishing his extraordinary rise to 3.7 per cent. Another 20,000 votes will get him over the line.

The chattering classes will hate it.

Peters has to hope the establishment goes after him, motivating his old conspiracy crowd to come out for him one last time.

Throw in the near-certainty that if Mana's Hone Harawira wins his seat there is a possibility of getting one or more of New Zealand's leading activists - Annette Sykes, John Minto and Sue Bradford - in with him. If NZ First and Mana make it, the opposition benches are going to be on fire.

But before we write Labour off completely, there is some good news from the poll. Despite the political spin among the professional pundits, Goff has been performing well during this campaign. His profile is building and he's been rewarded with a 6 per cent surge to 18 per cent personal support, his highest ever.

The campaign isn't compulsory viewing yet but, for the first time, uncertainty is creeping in.

It will be interesting watching Key sweating a bit.

- Herald on Sunday

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