Jacinda may steal back some Green votes, but they need a raid on National

by Bill Ralston / 12 August, 2017
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Bill English. Photo/Getty Images

All Labour is doing at the moment is rearranging the left’s deckchairs.

When I dreamily ripped open the curtains this morning and gazed out across the gently rolling waves of Hawke Bay, I was greeted by a spectacular bright-red dawn. “Gosh,” I thought, “that Jacinda has an amazingly inventive public relations and marketing team.” Then I woke up.

It was an understandable illusion. The last week or so has been a Jacinda-fest. The Jacinda Effect. Jacindamania. Jacinderella. The media have been deluging us with a tsunami of news stories.

The fact that journalists need only use her Christian name and we still know exactly who she is – like Madonna, Rihanna and Lorde – shows her massive brand power. Actually, I take it back about Lorde, as she wasn’t born with that name, but you catch my drift.

Jacinda is an excellent communicator, with a warm, approachable personality, a connector who manages to forge friendly relations with almost everyone she meets on the campaign trail. My only doubt about her taking the Labour Party leadership was that, unlike her deputy, Kelvin Davis, she has never really landed a blow on the Government in Parliament, which makes you worry about her political strength. She dispelled some of that scepticism by her accomplished first week in the job as she cheerily introduced herself about.

I don’t know what focus group Labour is using, but obviously the research shows her smile is a winner. Watching her be interviewed on television, I marvelled at how she can articulate so clearly while speaking with a smile stretched tightly across her cheeks. I tried the same trick and failed dismally.

Bill English, who for some bizarre reason Labour labelled “a rock”, can manage a wry, lopsided grin, but it soon dissolves into a downward contemplative curl as he mulls over whatever question he’s been asked. American actor and wrestler Dwayne Johnson is more famously known as “The Rock”, and there are a legion of young female fans who use the epithet as a compliment. But I think I speak for the nation when I beseech English, unlike Johnson, to keep his shirt on.

I am stranded, almost alone, in the barren no-man’s-land middle ground of politics. I once voted Labour but now tend to vote National. I am not tribally of any party, so I was pleased to see Labour suddenly make what could be a comeback from the depths of its polling. This, I thought, would make the election more interesting.

Labour will, inevitably, claw back much of the support it has lost to the Greens over the past few elections. It could be worth several percentage points on election day. Co-leader Metiria Turei and the Greens are helpfully contributing to this effect by burning their own party down.

I don’t particularly worry about Turei fiddling her domestic purposes benefit a quarter of a century ago, but it appears from at least one survey that three-quarters of the country disapprove of what she did. I object more to the fact that she has managed to reinforce the otherwise unjustified prejudice of many New Zealanders that most beneficiaries are cheats and can’t be trusted. That is cruelly untrue.

Although Ardern may be delighted by the return of Labour’s deserters from the Greens, the problem she now faces is that voters may worry that any government she could form will depend on the increasingly barking-mad Greens and the grumpy, thundering Winston party.

All Labour is doing at the moment is rearranging the left’s deckchairs. Its more important task is how to get some National voters to switch sides.

This article was first published in the August 19, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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