Not much has been happening on the NZ political front lately, as noted with a series of rather insipid articles about which MPs can play guitar, which like knitting, which drives a fast car etc, which just shows that the political editor at Stuff got creative in coming up with some make-work articles for reporters over the summer so they would be kept busy.
But bet your bottom dollar that sometime around midnight New Year’s Eve more than one MP (or even our new/old PM) might have been hearing the bell tolling somewhere as it ushered in 2017, which as we all know, is a NZ election year.
And as we also know elections are like the Olympics or World Cup of politics and any political scientist worth their salt should be getting excited at the prospect of seeing the competitors in action.
Sadly while I am excited it's more at the prospect of treating the proceedings as some sort of deranged lab experiment rather than a genuine political event because while John Key's leaving has theoretically opened up the game the reality is very different.
In theory the removal of John Key leaves National vulnerable to losing the coming election due to the fact that John Key was their star performer who had pretty much carried the rest of the deadwood team for eight years.
This means that with the star player gone the deadwood has to start pulling their own weight and after so long sitting on the bench doing nothing while Teflon John skipped around passing the ball to himself, slipping through tackles left right and center and sometimes just seeming to defy political gravity by floating above the scrum, what are the odds of a team of out of shape political lard asses winning the finals with other fitter, more professional teams on the field?
The odds in such circumstances are very low.
So that’s the theory but that’s not the reality.
Yes National without superstar Key is bloated and out of shape, wheezing and sweating profusely as they struggle to follow the ball while newly promoted Captain Bill English desperately scans the playbook for some sort of Hail Mary play that can save the team BUT such circumstances can also apply to the main opposition party: Labour.
Yes, after a two years in the job Andrew Little still seems to be playing the long game, the very long game in fact where the plan seems to be do nothing for a really long time and see what happens (the answer is very Little (pun intended).
So you have one team horribly out of shape and lead by someone who knows his chances are going down but game to try vrs another team of possibly fitter and faster players but lead by a captain who simply cannot rouse any enthusiasm from his player or the spectators*.
In such circumstances who do you think will win?
But now add in other teams like the Greens and New Zealand First, smaller faster and far more predatory, willing to exploit any opening and simply possessing more savvy and cunning (NZ First under Winston Peters) or more energy and vigor (The Greens) than the older competitors.
On top of this add in other teams; which look valid on paper but are completely absent in practice (dead in the water polling miscreant ACT) or newly reformed challengers (Mana/Maori) who while theoretically add further spoiler potential to the game but in reality add very little and if given the ball probably wouldn’t know which way to run anyway.
Finally there is potential new team, The Opportunity Party (TOP) who is as yet untested and as such might have star potential or simply end up another wannabe over hyped signing in 12 months’ time.
So lets get our stat freak on for a moment and see what the numbers and out comes will really be like:
National: current polling 46% - In theory without the Key factor National should decline over time but will they decline or fall is the real question.
If English can keep a lid on things until polling day National will retain most of its 46% and probably end up polling in the high 30s. This is the decline.
If English can’t keep his rabble in check or they get pressed too hard by a swift opposition play the chances are they will fold and go down in a screaming heap. This is the fall. In this situation expect polling to reach as far down as the low 20s as the team fumbles the ball at the crucial moment.
Labour: Current polling 28% - In theory Labour now has a fighting chance but the reality is that, based on current polling, they don’t have to just combine with the Greens to beat whatever percentage National is at but they have to beat whatever percentage National and NZ First are at.
This means its 56% (National/NZ First) vs 41.8% (Labour/Greens) and a 15% polling difference, in politics that's a veritable gulf.
So somehow Little and Labour has to make up that 15% deficit and that can only be done if National starts to decline in its polling, which will happen, but there is no guarantee that any of those juicy sweet poll numbers will go Labour's (or the Greens) way unless the actually do something to make it so.
Where they are likely to go, if National starts shedding voters, like flakes of skin after really bad sunburn, is to NZ First or possibly TOP, the natural choices for disaffected National voters who, without John Key to dazzle them, now sees what monstrosities are actually now in charge of the country**.
Thus, as per last year, the bitter reality remains that Winston retains his King-maker status and other parties like Act, Mana/Maori and TOP will only provide any real weight if the numbers come down to some razor thin margin where a seat or two actually matters and if that happens all bets are off everywhere.
So the key to any Labour plan to take National out of the game is only going to work if:
a) Labour gets its act together and starts playing like the really want to win; and
b) All those votes bleeding out of National go anywhere other than NZ First; and
c) Any decline in the polls for National is significant enough (ie that magic 15%) to reduce the National/NZ First total to less than can be beaten by the Greens/Labour
But you know what?
I can’t see Andrew Little being the man to lead Labour to victory, it’s been two years and while he has been in the shadow of Key most of that time there has been no indication of potential for greatness which any genuine candidate would have shown, shadow of Key or not.
So the question is simply: can we get rid of Andrew Little now so it’s not another three years of slow national suicide under National and the B-team.
Who replaces him I don’t know, nor do I care but anyone but Little.
The only thing that will save Andrew Little now is if Winston goes against all he has said and indicated and refuses to support National and/or backs Labour.
And that’s why the title of this post is what it is because once you get excited about the coming election and start crunching the numbers it’s clear that Labours outcomes in this election hinge on a series of improbable events, which might go their way if freak factors come into play (are you listening Gareth Morgan?) but in reality its a long probability and with that the horrid realization that it will be National for a fourth term and then all the enthusiasm for the proceedings bleeds out like stale air hissing out of a punctured (and bald) tire.
Little doesn’t need to come on like some political Jesus (although some David Lange/Norm Kirk type antics would not go amiss) but what he is currently doing is a guaranteed fail so he needs to take the game to National and hard (I cant belive that this is the third post on this subject and still he just sits there. Andrew, aren't you reading these things?)
My very first post for KiwiPolitico was titled Kiss Her you fool: Andrew Little, Labour and the TPPA and my assessment of him then remains sound today. He is not the man for the job and the sooner his is rolled the better.
This election is Little's to loose and it looks like he is doing a damn fine job of it.
*-Seems I am not the only one thinking this.
**-As I noted in my old post from KP about how ridden with genuine political monsters the party is.