Colin James looks at the task ahead of Labour:
The contrast with the opening month of the three most recent election years is stark. In each of those years Labour came off large December poll leads, 15 per cent average against Jenny Shipley’s fraying Government in 1999 and 11-12 per cent over the National oppositions of Bill English and Don Brash in 2002 and 2005.
This election-year Labour comes off a December average 15 per cent deficit to National, the mirror-image of 1999. And the strong economic tailwinds of 2002 and 2005 have turned round into a light but freshening headwind.
He then goes through the strategy that Labour needs to follow, to close the gap, and then finally notes:
Add it up and stir in that Clark is a proven Prime Minister – Labour bosses see scope for optimism as their year opens. Clark argues, too, that Labour has held its core 1999 vote of 38.7 per cent in polls. That, she says, is a firm launchpad for a fourth term bid.
Actually Labour’s poll support averaged just over 37 per cent last year. And it ended the year going down, not up.
You can’t rule Clark out – she will fight to the end. But not since 1996’s 22 per cent starting deficit has her climb ahead been so steep.
I very much agree you can not rule Clark out. It is hard to see how Labour can get more votes than National, but unless there is a clear National or National-ACT majority in Parliament (which could be as large as 125 MPs), Clark will try to negotiate a fourth term with the Maori, NZ First and United Future parties. The Greens will, as usual, support Labour no matter how minor their policy gains.
Now Clark in going for a 4th term will be willing to offer far more than John Key going for his 1st term. If NZ First demand all their MPs become Cabinet Ministers, plus say a 20% increase in NZ superannuation, there is no way National would agree as it would guarantee they are a one term Government. However Clark knowing she is in her final term anyway, can agree to anything no matter how fiscally irresponsible.
Finally, I should point out again that the reference to Labour’s 1999 vote of 38.7% is somewhat misleading. Because in 1999 you also had the Alliance get around 7%, and all that solid left vote would have gone to Labour since then. Labour won office in 1999 because the clear left vote was 51% (including the Greens). The clear left vote is currently around 42%.