How on Earth is Labour going to sell itself at the next election?
Cast your mind back to 2017. Think of everything Labour and Jacinda Ardern promised and represented. Then contrast it to where we are now - this week - and tell me what they can promise that we'll believe, at that crucial moment in the ballot box?
There's little chance Jacindamania would happen again. It's not because the PM isn't popular enough. Both TV polls this week put her at 38 per cent in personal popularity. That's not great, but it's not terrible. The problem is how much lower that score is from what it was. Her popularity has come back as much as 10 points in one poll.
So it's not popularity that could dampen Jacindamania II, it's enthusiasm. It's hard to be enthusiastic about a brand suffering this much damage. And that's what is happening to Ardern. The list of mini-scandals and sip ups that have dented the PM's brand is too long for a PM who's only been in power two years.
It'd be impossible for Ardern to run on the same brand as 2017. Last time, she used compassion, kindness, honesty and transparency. Few now would believe her if she said - like she did in 2017 - that it was "possible to exist in politics without lying". She's been caught out in too many half truths for that to be convincing. Compassion's going to be a hard one to run out too. Her reason for being in politics - child poverty - has hardly featured in her schedule over the last two years. Kindness got a bashing this week when she cut her mate Justin Lester loose from the party just two days after he lost his job as Wellington mayor.
This is a big problem for Labour. Last election, Ardern was their MVP, their most valuable player. Arguably, it didn't really matter what the polices were. So Labour needs to find a new brand for the PM. But what?
Brands are built on strengths, and the PM's strength right now is her international cache. So she could pitch herself as a leader who will take New Zealand to the world, but that's not a guaranteed vote winner. Voters don't vote for Vogue covers. They vote for their bank accounts generally.
So, if the MVP is slightly hobbled suddenly policies are important again. So, what can Labour deliver that voters actually want and also believe can happen.
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Anything ambitious has to be off the table. If it looks like it'd be a stretch to deliver, voters won't believe it. Not after all Labour's missed targets: 100,000 KiwiBuild houses, 1800 new cops over and above the existing number, reducing child poverty. Anything too progressive is off the table as well. Too many of Labour's more progressive plans have been ditched because New Zealand First said no. Capital gains tax, justice reform, Fair Pay Agreements, drug reform.
Simple, centre-of-politics policies might work. Things like tax cuts. But they're so simple they're not special. They won't set Labour apart. National will simply match them and then go one more with policies people believe are deliverable, which won't be vetoed by a problematic coalition partner.
I'd hate to be the person tasked with coming up with Labour's 2020 campaign slogan. How do you convey hope after three years of disappointment in a positive three-word phrase? You could try something that conveys how Labour's cabinet has finally learnt how to do their jobs now and ready to deliver. Or how it's true politics is tough, but Labour's MPs are tougher. Or how they're at least better than the other lot.
But whatever the slogan writer does, they must stay as far away from last election's slogan as possible. Because "Let's do this" has become "Didn't do this ... or this ... or this ...".