John Armstrong’s opinion: Pressure on Collins to lift National votes, even in defeat

Well might the Greens keep insisting that there must be a “conversation” about introducing a wealth tax when they begin post-election negotiations with Labour on the shape and priorities of the next government. If so, it will be a very short conversation.

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The supporters were on hand to praise Judith Collins during a walk through in the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby. Source: 1 NEWS

Should James Shaw put the concept of a wealth tax on the negotiating table — as the Greens co-leader says must happen — it will be on the table for about as long as it takes Labour to take it off the table. In other words, no time at all. 

Grant Robertson outlines what potential Labour-Greens coalition could look like, rules out wealth tax

When Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson go public and say something isn’t going to happen, then it ain’t going to happen. Full stop.

However the numbers fall on election night — and the now unanimous view of political commentators is that New Zealand will be governed for the next three years by Labour and the Greens — the latter simply won’t have the leverage in terms of seat numbers to push for tax reform.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National's Judith Collins. Source: 1 NEWS

What amounts to a last desperate throw of the dice on Judith Collins’ part — namely by trying to scare the elderly and the soon-to-retire that their assets would be targeted by a wealth tax — isn’t going to do the trick for National.

Once you analyse all the elements in the mix of ingredients operative in the 2020 election, it becomes glaringly obvious that it is now impossible for Labour to lose next Saturday.

It follows that it is accordingly now impossible for National to emerge the victor after the completion of the vote count later that evening.

The election campaign will rumble on.  But it is likely to prove to be even more of an anti-climax than it was already likely to have been. By the time the campaign enters its final week, the participants are exhausted; the arguments have been thrashed to death. There is nothing new to say. If there happens to be fresh policy at hand, opponents will castigate its content and the timing of its release as an indication of desperation.

Should some unforeseeable controversy or even scandal erupt out of nowhere, the affected party can usually come up with some means to kick the matter into touch beyond election day.

With National running out of time, election result will be 'pretty close' to latest poll, says 1 NEWS reporter

For confirmation that the current contest is no longer a contest — if it ever met the definition of that word - look no further than the three 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton polls conducted over the past month. 

October 8 poll: With time running out, National fails to close gap on Labour

They have Labour trending such that the party will secure around 47 per cent of the party vote if that backing is translated into actual votes at the ballot box.

National is lagging a long way behind on 32 per cent.

That is both bad news for Collins and good news for National’s leader of barely three months.

The good news is that while she is struggling to inflate National’s share of the vote, at least it isn’t deflating. Come election night, there is not going to be a repeat of the horror show of 2002 when National’s vote crumbled to a meagre 21 per cent nationwide. 

That will be of cold comfort to a chunk of her caucus, specifically the party’s electorate-deprived list MPs.

A party vote of just 32 per cent would see National entitled to 41 seats in the new Parliament— 14 fewer than it currently holds. Of the 54 seats they currently have, 39 are designated as electorate seats. If the party continues to hold all of those electorate seats on election night, that would wipe out all of the party’s list MPs. That would include the party’s finance spokesman, Paul Goldsmith, along with other high-profile MPs, such as Michael Woodhouse and Nicola Willis.

The pressure will be on Collins to lift National’s party vote to 35 per cent as an absolute minimum is, well, crushing (to borrow a word) — and for two other reasons.

Firstly, as a contender in National’s leadership election nearly three years ago which saw the caucus opt for Simon Bridges as Bill English’s replacement in the post, Collins floated the idea of capturing 35 per cent of the vote as performance target requirement for the leader. She may come to regret that suggestion.

Secondly, National must raise its share of the vote to much closer to 40 per cent for the right of centre parties to have even an arithmetical chance of defeating Labour.

The surprise surge in support for ACT has seen David Seymour’s outfit hitting the 8 per cent mark.

Much of that has come from the in-decline New Zealand First. It is difficult to see how ACT’s rating can get any higher without that coming largely at National’s expense.

To win the election, National will need the Greens, along with New Zealand First, to fail to clear the 5 per cent threshold.  

National and ACT will then have to slice at least five percentage points off Labour’s share of the party vote.

For such a tectonic shift in votes to occur first requires there be a strong mood for a change of administration. There is no such mood. Quite the opposite, thanks almost totally to Ardern’s manifestly quite brilliant handling of Covid-19.

The odds on such a shift in the public mood change taking hold in the final week of the campaign are zero.

Ardern’s nightmare would be Covid testing prior to Saturday picking up a series of unconnected clusters of infections across the country.

Such an outbreak would cause national morale to plunge to basement level.

Would that prompt an exodus of votes out of Labour to National? In all probability, it wouldn’t.

Put to one side the fact that the huge numbers partaking of advance voting would make that question ever more academic with each passing day, those thinking of switching would have to believe National would do a better job of things.

The disarray, disunity, indiscipline and disloyalty endemic in National’s caucus hardly inspires confidence that the party could lift its game to the standard at which Ardern operates.

To the contrary, National looks less like a government-in-waiting and more like a rabble without a cause. 

Restoring the public’s confidence in the party’s competence to be an alternative government was always going to take a lot longer than the 90 days which Collins has been at National’s helm. Time has been Collins’ enemy as much as has been Ardern.

While a week is a long time in politics, the week leading up to election day can feel like a very short time in politics should you find yourself desperately endeavouring to avert the scale of the defeat which is now staring the current Leader of the Opposition in the face. As this marathon of an election campaign kicks off its final week, two sharply contrasting images from the past week provided graphic evidence of the respective states of the Labour and National camps. The first was of Jacinda Ardern being mobbed on the streets of Dunedin by fans, well-wishers, Labour Party members and supporters in the hundreds. 

National caught red-handed getting supporters to pose as members of the public

The second image was of Judith Collins not being mobbed on the streets of inner-city Auckland by National Party “volunteers” bused in and sprinkled along the pavement of Ponsonby Road at various intervals and tasked with pretending to be ordinary members of the public to ensure Collins had someone to greet and exchange a few words.

By week’s end, you had to ask — as one television news reporter aptly put it — whether we are witnessing a “second wave of Jacindamania”.

National ought to be very worried. Very worried.