Opinion: Can Andrew Little do a Jeremy Corbyn?

National would be very loath to admit it, but it would be most surprising if the astonishing result of last week's British general election has not sent more than a few cold shivers up and down the party's spine.

1 NEWS Europe correspondent Emma Keeling brings us the latest after a weekend of drama in British politics. Source: Breakfast

One question in particular will be nagging away at Bill English and company: if someone as previously unpopular and polarising as Jeremy Corbyn can go from zero to hero in the space of just a few short weeks, what is there to stop Andrew Little enjoying a similarly radical switch in political fortune during the upcoming election campaign in this country?

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There is no question that the vastly increased public exposure which an Opposition party leader suddenly enjoys as part and parcel of what is normally a four-week burst of maximum intensity politicking can drastically alter the public's perception of that leader.

For example, a solid performance in a televised leaders' debate in the early days of such electioneering can turn someone previously considered to exhibit all the depth and panache of a two-dimensional cartoon cut-out figure into someone viewed as possessing substance, authenticity, credibility and integrity.

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Little retains all those qualities. But the public only really knows him as a dour and dull former trade union hack who having climbed to the top of that heap has predictably taken the career option favoured by many of his forebears and clambered aboard the parliamentary gravy train.

The task required of Little is for him to grab the no-lose status of underdog rather than just dog's body.

There is nothing the media loves more in an election campaign than the potential ascendancy of an underdog regardless of his or her political complexion.

At this stage, this year's campaign is instead shaping as Groundhog Day. National's huge lead in the polls and the near inevitability that Winston Peters will be calling the shots afterwards mean the campaign might be better experienced in snooze control. Having an underdog, however, means you have a contest - something the governing party almost certainly wishes to avoid.

There are worse scenarios that can afflict the incumbent regime, however.

Corbyn's shock resurrection serves as a reminder of the golden rule of election campaigns: expect the unexpected.

National knows that better than most. It has been blind-sided in recent campaigns by totally unforeseen events such as the so-called "teapot tapes" and the publication of Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics.

Thanks to Corbyn, the fear of the unknown has once again become a spectre haunting National.

You can hire all the high-powered political consultants you like to find vulnerabilities in your political armour of which you are not aware. But it is extremely difficult, nigh impossible to cater for the unknown.

The trick is to ensure whatever is thrown at you from left-field is kept in proportion and does not drown out your campaign messages.

There are times, however, when such distractions can usefully drown out what your opponents are saying.

Had English been willing to offer comment on the humiliating rout suffered by National's Conservative Party cousins - a path he is understandably reluctant to go down - he would have rejected any suggestion that any cross-border inferences could be drawn from the cataclysm which has engulfed Theresa May.

He would have likely loyally argued that the hoop-la surrounding Corbyn's performance on the hustings was seriously misplaced.

It is certainly much less impressive when measured against two factors. The first reality check is that while British Labour lifted its representation in the House of Commons by 30 seats, Corbyn's party still fell 55 seats short of the 317 won by the Conservatives.

The second factor is even someone as accident-prone as Corbyn could not compete for the dunce's hat given the frequency and scale of the gaffes which defined the appalling campaign run by the aloof and out-of-touch May.

The Economist magazine has made the point that expectations of Corbyn were so low pre-campaign that it did not require him to do very much to exceed them. Once he had done so, he was on a roll.

There is some truth in such supposition. But it ignores Corbyn's two major achievements.

He succeeded where many others have failed in mobilising the youth vote.

He has shown that a social democratic party can campaign on a list of promises with a very distinct red tinge and still substantially lift its share of the vote.

Under Corbyn's leadership, British Labour's share of the vote climbed from 30.4 per cent to smack on 40 per cent.

That is grist to Little's mill. It sheds new light on his rather odd statement he made last year dismissing Helen Clark's assertion that parties on the left must "command the centre ground" to win elections.

Clark's assessment is the correct one. But parties of the left have found it extremely difficult to command the centre when centre-right parties have opted to adopt various brands of "caring conservatism" in order to establish a monopoly on the centre-ground.

John Key was a leading exponent of that means of shutting the left out of power - as is his successor.

It could be argued that British voters did not necessarily give the thumbs-up to Corbyn's back-to-the-future, back-to-Labour basics manifesto and threw their weight behind him for other reasons.

But neither did they give the thumbs down to the manifesto's contents.

With New Zealand Labour's campaign similarly focussed on what Little describes as "bread-and-butter" issues, the country's major Opposition party will view Corbyn's triumph as vindication for its election strategy.

As for National, it needs to be stressed that it is risky and downright dubious to draw conclusions from what has happened in one country as being relevant to what is going on in another.

There are, however, marked similarities in the circumstances that May faced and which will soon confront English.

Neither politician enjoyed the mandate a prime minister gets from winning an election. Both have been buttressed by big leads in the polls upwards of 20 percentage points. The speed with which May's evaporated will be warning enough to English that when it comes to voter loyalty, there is none. But he hardly needs to be told that.

There is also one highly relevant difference between him and May. Unlike her, he has had prior experience of how not to run an election campaign.

He made more than enough mistakes in 2002 when he led National to the worst defeat in the party's history. He won't be making them again.