NZ First and Labour; too close for comfort?
By Richard Harman (author)
Parliament resumes today with a poll last night which raises substantial questions about the future of NZ First.
The Newshub Reid research poll showed the party at 2.9 per cent --- well below the five per cent threshold, it would need to return to Parliament at the next election.
The results showed:
National will delight in this. Their strategy is to see both NZ First and the Greens under five per cent and effectively return politics to a two horse race.
That is why National Party members are quietly pleased that one of their own members, Vernon Tava, is setting up an environmental party designed to soak up Green votes.
Tava was formerly a contender for the Greens but joined National last year and managed the campaign for East Coast MP, Erica Stanford. he unsuccessfully sought the party's nomination for the Northcote by-election last year.
As far as National is concerned, his mission is not necessarily to win but rather to take enough votes off the Greens to bring them below 5%.
Meanwhile National has been consistently targeting both Winston Peters and Shane Jones, and it appears to be paying off with NZ First now below three per cent.
The omens are not good for the party.
Though it has been down below five per cent in polls before; back in 1996 and again between 2005 and 2008 in both cases it failed to make five per cent at the next election.
Its problem now is that if it keeps polling at this level, it will reinforce the belief in some quarters in Labour that the party would be better off without it and instead should focus on the Greens.
Labour may be divided on this with its urban liberals --- like Phil Twyford --- wanting to focus on the Greens while more conservative elements like David Parker, Stuart Nash and the Maori MPs would prefer to see NZ First remain in Parliament. Nevertheless it must be a concern for NZ First and add to their sense of insecurity inside the Government.
It would therefore be logical for New Zealand First to become more assertive in proclaiming its position on a number of potentially controversial Labour proposals.
NZ First MPs say that they tell potential voters that they can knock the rough edges off Labour. But they have to demonstrate that.
The first challenge will be the report of the Tax Working Group on the capital gains tax.
NZ First MP, Mark Patterson, has made it clear he believes that family farms – rather than just the farmhouse – should be exempted from this.
Then there is climate change.
NZ First will want short lived agricultural emissions (methane) treated separately to other gases.
And there is likely to be an ongoing difference between NZ First on the one hand, and Labour and the Greens on the other over transport.
NZ First Infrastructure Minister, Shane Jones, has made it clear he is sceptical about the Auckland Light Rail project which is enthusiastically supported by the Greens and Labour.
Last week he told www.interest.co.nz that: “We’re confronted by a major conundrum.
“We have these urban transport projects, but we haven’t concocted the source of the capital needed
"I would say before Phil Goff gets too enthusiastic about the Dominion Road idea (Auckland light rail) he needs to sort out how he's going to fund the CRL project. It hasn't been completed yet, and he's now got to find [an extra] $500 million to $1 billion for that.
“It’s a lot of dough."
Meanwhile, National won't be too disturbed by its own poll ratings.
Party sources and others familiar with its polling all claim that its own polling shows it higher than the Newshub poll, but party supporters talking about polling are notoriously unreliable.
Of more concern to leader, Simon Bridges, will be the inexorable rise of Judith Collins as preferred PM.
For a start, Bridges own boast that no one would replace a winning jockey looks a little hollow now the party is behind Labour.
But Collins has set her own target for when he might need to worry.
During her unsuccessful run for the party leadership last year she said that if the party under her leadership got down to 35% in the polls, then she would expect to be replaced.
What she obviously implied was that if Bridges got the party below 35%, then he could expect to be challenged.
It is still difficult to tell how much support she has in the caucus except that it is probably not enough to win the leadership yet.
Ultimately what this poll does show is the continuing pop[ularity not just of the Government but of the Prime Minister in particular.
Part of the reason for National's fall may be that once it decided to switch its attack over the Czech immigrant and convicted drug importer, Karel Shroubek, to a personal attack on Ardern, it began to lose ground.
National does not seem to have learned from Labour who wasted at least three years in Opposition believing they could bring John Key down by accusing him of personal corruption.
Collins and Paul Goldsmith have defined the way for National to deal with the Government; focus on the policy and its delivery.
It will be interesting to see this Parliamentary session whether Bridges' principal advisors like Todd McClay persuade him to shift tactics away from Ardern.
And so as the session begins, Labour and the Greens are comfortable, but New Zealand First has the potential, and possibly the need, to destabilise the government while Simon Bridges may need to watch his back.