One of the more common and basic mistakes to make in politics is to underestimate your opponent. It’s an easy thing to do. Your opponents are doing it all wrong and so must be either stupid or crooked and perhaps both.
Your team readily agrees and the trap is easy to fall into. And so it is with Labour and John Key.
Labour continues to dismiss Key as a political lightweight who would sell his own mother, in Labour leader David Cunliffe’s words.
They overlook that Key toppled Labour’s best and strongest leader, has seen off Phil Goff and David Shearer, and who Cunliffe has yet to dent. That’s no political lightweight.
Labour pooh-poohed Key’s credentials in foreign policy. He now has David Cameron’s number on speed dial.
Previous New Zealand prime ministers were ecstatic for our future trade prospects with a two-minute “pull aside” at a formal meeting. Key plays golf with the President of the United States on his holidays.
Key, with no fuss, has turned over 13 of his own MPs in just two years to refresh the party. That’s rare political power and skill.
Cunliffe, meanwhile, is stuck with the team that didn’t want him and which includes ministers from the 1980s plus the party’s two previous leaders.
Over a quarter of Labour’s caucus entered Parliament in the 1980s or 1990s.
Clark was a very popular prime minister. Her average in the preferred prime minister stakes was almost 2 times her predecessor Jim Bolger’s. That’s an extraordinary achievement. But Key’s is even more extraordinary. His average is fully 10 percentage points above Clark’s.
That’s a 25 per cent advantage.
Labour has taken to calling Key lucky. They persist in underestimating him. It’s like they just have to wait until his luck runs out.
I got to work with Key. It’s not luck. This is a man who is smart, who works hard and who understands people.
National needs to poll mid 40s or high 40s to win a third term. This would be unprecedented as under MMP no other party has ever got higher than low 40s – even for their first term. But if anyone can do it, Key will.