The Labour Party is staring at its worst poll result since the 2008 election, but leader Phil Goff is safe – until after the next one.
TV3’s weekend poll showed National at a near-record 57.5% support and Labour down 3.8 points to 27.1%, below the psychological 30% barrier and in danger of losing nine MPs if an election was held now.
It’s leadership coup territory, but Goff isn’t going to be challenged, because there’s no credible alternative and no one wants the job anyway. The real issue is who will take his place after the November 26 election, and it isn’t as simple as some media are reporting.
There’s no cohesive plot to install former party president and union leader Andrew Little, although he’ll be in a strong position to challenge through his union power base (would the electorate tolerate a union-led Labour Party?). But Little still has a long way to go to prove himself, and the campaign he fights in New Plymouth will be closely watched. He’s taking on National’s Jonathan Young, who won the seat in 2008 with a 105 vote majority.
Little is also an unknown quantity as a debating chamber speaker and caucus manager. And if he wants the prize of being the next PM, taking over from Goff might not be the smartest move to make.
National looks like being a three-term Govt, as the three before it were, and under this scenario the next leader of the Labour Party will have to survive six years in opposition.
It would make more sense for Little to become the next deputy leader, with David Cunliffe or David Parker in charge, and wait for the main chance when a worn-out National Party has served nine years in office.
Little needs a much higher profile as a politician, and the TV3 poll showed it. When 1000 voters were asked who they thought should replace Goff, just 4.6% picked Little.
The poll also showed 40% didn’t have an opinion, another indication of the low level of public recognition for Labour’s front bench. Those who did have an opinion put deputy leader Annette King at the top of the list – she doesn’t want the leadership – followed by Cunliffe and Trevor Mallard on an equal rating, Shane Jones, Parker, Little, David Shearer and Grant Robertson who fancies his chances but also has to prove himself.
And unless there’s a big swing away from National between now and the election, Labour’s next three years could be as bad as its first term in opposition.
On current poll ratings National could govern on its own without needing any support parties to give it a majority, and Labour wouldn’t be able to keep the 43 MPs it came back with in 2008.
Goff, meanwhile, insists he can turn things around and says the soaring cost of living is going to erode National’s support.