Labour would get an immediate lift in the polls if it dumped leader David Cunliffe, a new poll suggests.
The stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll reveals that Cunliffe may have become Labour’s biggest liability, with a significant number of voters saying they would be more likely to vote for Labour if someone else were leader.
Click here for full poll results in graphics.
The effect is sizeable, making a 13.5 percentage point difference to Labour’s vote.
Although a similar effect is seen on National when asked the same question about John Key, it is much smaller.
The finding will plunge Labour further into crisis after yesterday’s poll result cementing Labour’s support in the mid-20s.
Privately, Labour and the Greens now acknowledge that it would take an unprecedented swing against National to force a change of government on September 20.
Some Labour MPs were yesterday privately canvassing leadership options, even at this late stage.
But they believe Labour would be even more severely punished by such an outward sign of panic.
Labour’s focus now has shifted to protecting its vote from further erosion, and preserving the seats of some of its up-and-coming stars, including Andrew Little, seen as a future leadership contender, and former teacher Kelvin Davis.
I think a change of leader 64 days before the election is unlikely, but it is correct Labour MPs are talking. They had their annual conference and their big education announcement, which should have given them a boost, and they’re still polling below what they got in 2011. The problem for them is that the phone is off the hook for many voters.
The major focus of Labour MPs is in fact on the leadership after the election. As I’ve reported previously they are terrified that Cunliffe won’t resign if Labour loses. Grant Robertson has the numbers to roll Cunliffe in caucus. He has had it for some time. But if Cunliffe doesn’t resign, and contests the leadership again despite being rolled by caucus, can Robertson win the vote of activists and unions? Cunliffe could well argue that he was never loyally supported by his caucus, and ask to be re-elected to have a mandate to do a purge.
Robertson’s fear is that he would lose again to Cunliffe, and this his chances of ever becoming Leader will be extinguished. And Grant is a cautious man. So the signal he has sent out is he will not stand.
So my understanding, from highly reliable sources, is that the decision has been made that instead David Shearer will stand again. His argument will be that he was never given a fair go, and that Labour would have done better if he had stayed on as Leader, than under Cunliffe. This will be difficult to argue against. Also Shearer is the one candidate whom Cunliffe can’t campaign against and accuse of disloyalty – because of course it was in fact Cunliffe who undermined Shearer. By contrast, Shearer has been publicly loyal.
Also Shearer has gained in confidence and performance since being dumped, as many have remarked. And crucially, he does not have such a high level of dislike.
So one can’t rule out a change in the next 64 days, but the more likely option is to try and minimise the loss, and then have Shearer challenge Cunliffe for the leadership in December.
However if the polls get much worse for them, then they may move. It will depend on if List MPs such as Andrew Little and Jacindaa Ardern look likely to lose their seats in Parliament. At the moment they are just back in on the average of public polls, and Labour picks up the electorate seats iPredict says they will.