John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Labour-Greens tango a fizzer

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Electricity pricing scheme has not made much impact on the polls

David Shearer's griping at John Key's every move is pure opposition politics and not working for him. Photo / Dean Purcell
David Shearer's griping at John Key's every move is pure opposition politics and not working for him. Photo / Dean Purcell

Three opinion polls have come through this week. All of them have National still far ahead, two give the party enough votes to govern alone.

They are the first polls to be taken since the Government floated Mighty River Power, suffered the fall of Solid Energy and did the pokie deal for a convention centre.

More important probably, they are the first to be taken since Labour and the Greens put their heads together and announced a hare-brained scheme to bring the wholesale electricity market under price control.

This, the parties hoped, would simultaneously undermine the asset sale, allow them to promise lower power prices, distinguish themselves clearly from the Government and give voters an image of a Labour-Green coalition in action.

Commentators immediately agreed the political strategy was smart. Even one as astute as business journalist Patrick Smellie, interviewed on Newstalk ZB that evening, thought that while the economics was nuts it was "probably good politics".

Well, not so good it turns out.

Colmar Brunton, polling for TVNZ last week, found support for National at 49 per cent, up six points on its previous poll which started before the Labour-Green announcement on April 15. Since then, Labour has shed three points to languish at 33 per cent, and the Greens have dropped four points to 9 per cent.

An Ipsos poll in Fairfax newspapers on Wednesday reported much the same result. National up (49.1 per cent), Labour down (31.9 per cent), Greens up slightly (11.2 per cent).

Reid Research for TV3 was the only one that had National in need of partners to govern after the next election, though National at 47 per cent still exceeded the combined total for Labour and the Greens (45 per cent) in Reid's sample.

Both television channels reported their polls last Sunday night. 3 News political editor Patrick Gower announced: "Labour and the Greens are closing the gap on National. We've got the numbers on the reason why: the left-wing bloc's joint power prices policy."

One News deputy political editor Jessica Mutch was almost apologetic about a different result. "Just five weeks ago, our poll showed Labour and the Greens had the numbers to form a government," she said, "The lead-up to next year's election will see much more of this to-ing and fro-ing ... Labour and the Greens both admitted to me they need to do a better job of selling their joint electricity announcement."

As it happened, 3 did have a number on the power announcement. Reid had asked, do you support the Labour/Greens policy to reform the power market and 54 per cent said yes.

When a pollster telephones people with a question like that they are put in much the same position as a person under cross-examination in court. They must answer "yes" or "no" when the answer they really want to give is, "yes, but ...". Connect the answers to Reid's questions and a critical number are saying: "Yes, but we wouldn't vote for them."

The Green Party, holding its annual conference this weekend, ought to ask itself why. The answer is probably standing in front of them.

When Russel Norman snarls about business and profits, he might be winning the 10 or 12 per cent of voters that the Greens need to be in play after the next election. But he is turning off the mainstream that Labour needs if it is to get close to the 40 per cent it would need to lead a coalition.

The Greens will be happy enough with gains in two of the three polls taken since the joint policy announcement. The real loser is Labour. Its failure to gain much traction from the Green embrace must be a subject of intense discussion within the party now. It was visibly hard enough for somebody like Shane Jones to stomach at the time. He must be bristling now.

So what is David Shearer to do? Obviously he needs to give the Greens a wide berth from here on but more than that, he needs to stop condemning John Key for every little thing. It is just opposition politics and it never works. He sounds programmed, unconvinced and bored, as he must be.

Shearer is an intelligent fellow, still fairly fresh to politics and must be finding some themes of policy and events particularly interesting. He needs to make the most of those subjects. They might not make headlines, his economic leanings, I think, are orthodox and sensible. It may be that while he is talking to small audiences more combatant parliamentarians in his party will command attention and commentators will start writing, Where's David Shearer?

Let them. If he sticks to a conventional opposition script they will soon be writing him off anyway. At least this suggestion would give him something interesting and a little prime ministerial to do while he awaits his day.

- NZ Herald

John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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