For three years, Phil Goff has tirelessly pushed his boulder Sisyphus-like up the hill, only for it to roll back down each time. Now, however, the rock may have slid down the hill one too many times.
Over the past couple of weeks, cracks have appeared in Labour’s united front, giving National added reason to believe it can secure the electoral equivalent of El Dorado – winning enough seats in an MMP election to govern alone.
Labour’s legendary self-discipline seems to be crumbling under the relentless pressure of bad polls.
I wouldn’t get too fixated about whether National will win enough seats to govern alone. National’s aim is to get around 48% of the vote, not to govern alone. And the margin will close during the campaign.
But what John is correct to note is that for the first time there are significant splits showing in Labour. A number of Labour MPs are now of the view that a change is necessary – basically that any change is better than no change. They can be counted on one hand, but they are now there.
You also have Cunliffe and Jones especially starting to gather supporters for the post-election leadership vote, assuming Labour loses.
Witness the unfortunate outburst from Dunedin South backbencher Clare Curran, flaying the Greens for having the temerity to encroach on territory which apparently belongs to Labour as of right.
Of more serious note, some senior Labour MPs clearly think November’s election is a foregone conclusion, and are now focusing on what happens afterwards leadership-wise, positioning themselves accordingly.
The net effect of this is to leave Phil Goff marooned exactly where National wants him – in an ineffectual limbo with his leadership destabilised, but not so much that he must be removed before the election.
It is a skill to aim to wound, rather than kill. But generally the shots are self-inflicted – not a result of enemy fire.
Most damaging has been the leaking of suggestions that Goff offered to resign as leader during a recent meeting of Labour’s front-bench MPs.
What Goff apparently said was that he had put everything into the job for the past three years, and anyone who wasn’t happy with his performance should stick their hand up. No one did.
The only motive for the leak would be to undermine Goff before the election campaign to ensure he loses.
Or to undermine him, so he can be rolled before the election. Either way it means someone on the Labour front bench is undermining Goff.
Voters’ ratings of his attributes as a leader – as measured by the 3 News poll – have become more unfavourable since he took over from Clark in late 2008.
On the crucial questions of whether he is a capable leader, good in a crisis and having sound judgment, Goff’s initially positive ratings have slumped.
Over the last two year, Goff’s rating as a capable leader has dropped from 53% to 38%, good in a crisis from 51% to 40%, honesty from 45% to 34% and sound judgement from 57% to 42%.
While much is made of the 1951 election as the last time a party won more than 50 per cent of the vote, National has topped 47 per cent in seven of the 22 post-war elections.
It is also worth noting that Labour, in winning a second term in office in 1987, raised its vote from 43 to 48 per cent.
That’s a stat I hadn’t seen before. National got over 47% in 1946 (but still lost), 52% in 1949, 54% in 1951, 48% in 1960, 47% in 1963, 47% in 1966, 48% in 1975, and 48% in 1990.
When the positioning going on within Labour is taken into account, what is happening is that the early stages of the 2014 election campaign are being played out before this year’s one has started.
All rather bizarre, to say the least.
I suppose it allows Labour to say they are forward looking