Heading for change?
By Roger Childs
The country starts going to the polls on Monday, when advanced voting begins. The early indications are that a majority of voters will take advantage of the opportunity to cast their ballot early, rather than wait for “election day”.
The latest poll gives Labour a 43-39 lead over National, and that will be hard for the government to pull back.
The massive increase in support for Labour is undoubtedly due to the impact of new leader, Jacinda Ardern.
She has captured the imagination of the nation and even the predominantly right-leaning media, with not only her image and dynamism, but also her debating skills and grasp of the key issues facing the country.
A leader to have confidence in
There were big questions to be answered when Ardern assumed the leadership. What about her limited time as an MP; her relative inexperience as a key spokesperson for the party; her untested grasp of finance and economic matters?
Going into the debates she was up against the man who had been in parliament since 1990 and Finance Minister for almost nine years. Would she get a drubbing?
Definitely not. She was a little nervous in the first debate, but impressed with her politeness and dignity, as well as her sincerity. To his credit English showed respect and was also well mannered.
In debates two and three Ardern gained in confidence, and public opinion clearly showed that her performances were having a huge impact. She may not have been a clear winner in these contests but she more than held her own.
Amazingly, after only a few weeks as leader she is now preferred prime minister.
The secrets of success
In many ways it’s been a dream run for the would-be leader of the country. She took over because Andrew Little willingly stepped aside and there was no acrimony. The party united behind her and the new Labour slogan Let’s do this has resonated with the electorate.
It’s we’re in this together, unlike the bland National pitch of Delivering for New Zealanders.
Jacinda has an attractive presence and plenty of charisma, but she is also tough. She has already quickly disciplined Kelvin Davis and Chris Hipkins when they stepped out of line.
She has regularly released new policies and her early announcement of looking at charging commercial users for water hit the right note for the majority of New Zealanders.
There has been plenty of emphasis on public concerns such as improving health and education, and dealing with homelessness. Lifting the hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty has also had plenty of traction and put the pressure on National to respond.
In the last debate Bill English defensively announced plans for a fourth National government to set some targets for dealing with child poverty. Naturally the response has been what took you so long?
Can the momentum be sustained?
Probably “Yes”. National has now resorted to old tactics: dirty tricks and misinformation. Steven Joyce came up with the $11.7 billion hole in Labour’s proposed spending as a new government, and fell flat on his face.
It was massive miscalculation from the man who is probably National’s best communicator, and instead of casting doubt in the minds of the public and the media, he was left standing without backers like the emperor in his new clothes.
The Labour campaign under Jacinda Ardern has been overwhelmingly positive and, unlike the 2014 election, this one is going to be ultimately won or lost on policy.
Hundreds of thousands of people didn’t vote in the last election, possibly out of apathy or not seeing a viable alternative to the popular John Key. There were also the distractions of Kim Dotcom, Hone Harawira and the revelations of Dirty Politics.
This time there is a clear alternative and it is becoming increasingly apparent that many younger voters, who may not have bothered to vote three years ago, see hope in a government led by the dynamic Jacinda Ardern.
As she has put it: The choice is between risk and hope. There is risk attached to the status quo – but there is a choice, we can choose better.