Considering how badly things are going for Andrew Little, you'd think the sight of the Labour leader in the dock five months out from an election would be enough to finish him off.

But actually, this might be exactly what he needs.

It's true Little should never have got himself into court in the first place. He should have shown humility and apologised to Lani and Earl Hagaman as soon as possible.

But, he landed himself there and - considering the jury dismissed five defamation counts against him and couldn't decide on the details of the sixth - you could say he ended up winning.


It's possibly the first thing that has gone right for Andrew Little in ages.

He's unpopular with the public, overshadowed by his deputy, taking body blows for bad decisions and - arguably most importantly - facing a credibility crisis as the leader of a party twisting and turning on too many big policies.

For two elections Labour told us a Capital Gains Tax would solve the housing crisis. Now it treats the idea like a drunken mistake caught on a cellphone camera: yup, it happened; no, it won't happen again; please don't talk about it.

For two elections Labour urged the National Government to raise the superannuation age. National raised it and Labour trashed the move.

In 2014, Labour said it supported a flag change. National went for it and Labour sabotaged the referendum.

Flip-flopping on too many things undermines credibility because voters lose faith that you're there for the right reasons. It starts to feel like political expediency.

So Little could do with a shot of credibility and that is what the trial gave him.

He took aim at National, held the line - at least publicly - and came out the victor.

To Labour supporters who have lost faith in their party, he might just have proved he does stand firm on some things, sometimes. He might have proved Little is not afraid fight big.

Although that plays to the core supporters, it takes more to win an election. What of the swing voters?

Well, Little's also just been humanised by the trial in a way nothing else has.

He has never nailed the personal stuff. His demeanour is gruff.He makes a T-shirt look uncomfortable. He makes a women's magazine photoshoot with Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern look like an awkward date.

Andrew Little might just have proved he does stand firm on some things, sometimes.


Ditching his spectacles to look more relatable only has the same effect as seeing your dad without a moustache for the first time. He is rarely photographed with his family and rarely talks about his private life.

But in the trial, Little admitted he would have to take out a $100,000 mortgage on his house to fund a payout to the Hagamans.

Any average home owner can relate to the anxiety that would induce. With that admission the politician became a person.

Never underestimate the power of voters relating on a human level. It's what made John Key so successful.

To be fair, any perception gains from the trial are too small to bank on in the September election, but they're important.
Support attracts support like a magnet, so every bit that goes Little's way helps to change Labour's story from "no hope to "actually in with a chance".

And things are going Labour's way: hammering policy issues people care about and solutions they can live with, appointing Ardern to deputy, slowly creeping up the polls.

But there is one problem for Little, and that's how far behind he is, how much catching up he has to do.

I sounded out a business woman in her early 60s who I consider an average voter. I asked her what she thought of Andrew Little after the defamation trial wrapped up.

Her response: "Who's Andrew Little?"