COMMENT: Our Prime Minister is iconic. You'd be hard pressed to counter that idea. Polling is now starting to catch on to this idea of Jacinda as a phenom. She damn near single handedly dragged Labour off the opposition benches after inheriting a dispirited and damaged group seven weeks before a General Election. But our Prime Minister has been on parental leave for a month and in that time we've had a sort of political vacuum.
Usually if such a vacuum occurs the opposition might use it to get some cut-through, let the country know what it stands for. But National seems to stand for nothing except an empty jar of hair gel.
I was talking to a Labour front-bencher and they said to me "If you asked me what National's policy on just about anything was, I wouldn't be able to tell you, and I sit opposite them." Which is not a reflection on their listening skills, but rather that National is bereft. Bereft of ideas. Personality. Communication skills. Anything really.
Ask yourself, what is a National Party policy? All I can think of is MORE TAX CUTS, and maybe FEWER ABORTIONS. But the anti-abortion policy is more Simon Bridges' than National's, and the tax cuts policy seems to have flown out the door because National keeps complaining that the Government isn't spending enough money.
In the now infamous Radio Hauraki interview that Bridges did about Jacinda and Clarke's daughter, he stressed that he didn't hate wee Neve and then made jokes about gender fluidity and her picking up crazy ideas at university. It was not classy.
You may have loved or hated John Key but we all know he wouldn't have made such an amateur mistake. He would have waxed lyrical about how he had fond memories of when he and Bronagh welcomed Stephie into the world and what a special time it would be for Jacinda and Clarke. He would have sent the Ardern Gayford family a present. He wouldn't have made derogatory jokes about Neve or her parents.
And it's starting to hurt. Labour's internal polling has Labour three points ahead of National. A fairly big baby bump considering where they have been. But it's their support parties' result that is the more startling. Both the Greens and NZ First are at seven per cent each. This gives the Coalition plus Greens a seventeen point lead over the opposition. Even at Labour's Cunliffe-nadir, there wasn't a gap of seventeen points between Government and opposition.
Winston as PM has not been the disaster that a lot of people were expecting. He's performed the role perfectly adequately, while holding the coalition together, and now NZ First is picking up National voters.
Simon's numbers were pretty terrible too. His favourability has gone into the negatives. This means more people dislike him as leader than like him. It's got to the point where National front bench Mark Mitchell had to deny that there was any threat to Simon's position. To have that sort of chatter break out less than five months after taking the role is David Shearer like. And Shearer's now in South Sudan.
When you talk to rank and file National members you hear how dispirited they've become. One told me how deeply uninspired they all were. These National MPs give no oomph, no motivation, no excitement. He said that people weren't turning out to meetings or conferences. 2018 National is looking a lot like 2008-2017 Labour. Could it be that the departure of Jonathan Coleman left National rudderless? Was he secretly a brilliant strategist and not just a woefully inept health minister?
In his most recent column, Matthew Hooton replayed Key's famous line that Working For Families was "communism by stealth", well this National party is doing "opposition by stealth". So stealthy, many don't even care they're there.
David Cormack is the co-founder of communications and PR firm, Draper Cormack Group. He has worked for the Labour Party, the Green Party and for National.