Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensive crouch

by Guyon Espiner / 14 February, 2019
jacinda ardern

Labour will count itself lucky after the results of Newshub's latest poll, Guyon Espiner writes. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

RelatedArticlesModule - rel

Analysis - Labour will count itself lucky the Newshub-Reid Research poll was held for nine days and released the night before MPs returned to Parliament on Tuesday.

The poll, completed on 2 February but not released until 11 February, provided a welcome distraction for a government that has had a rocky start to the year.

The headlines were damaging for National, with Newshub calling it a "disastrous" poll for the party and a "dark day" for its leader, Simon Bridges.

Those kinds of stories create their own energy, sucking the politician into a whirlpool of uncertainty about their leadership.

It's difficult to escape that - just ask Phil Goff, Andrew Little, David Shearer or David Cunliffe.

I'll leave the quibbling over the interpretation of polls to the politicians and the partisans but we do have a genuine issue in our modern media environment: Strapped for cash, almost everyone has given up polling.

The only media company now to poll consistently is TVNZ, which has for the last four years run its Colmar Brunton poll once every two months.

The NewsHub Reid Research Poll in the media this week was the first poll it has done since March 2018. Newshub reports that National "plunged" 3.5 percent (which is about the margin of error in the poll). But since when? Well, since nearly a year ago.

Now, the poll may well be an accurate snapshot in time but establishing meaningful trends is the key thing in polling - and that is almost impossible if you leave it 11 months between surveys.

None of those nuances will change the public narrative of course. Labour gets a big motivational boost as the most popular party on 47 percent, six points clear of National.

If you step back and consider that when Jacinda Ardern took over the leadership from Andrew Little Labour was in the mid-20s, it is an extraordinary rebuild.

Having rightly raised their glasses to the leader who has nearly doubled their support, Labour MPs might also benefit from a sober reflection of how they start the Parliamentary year.

For a government promising 'a year of delivery' it has begun in something of a defensive crouch.

Even as the 'delivery year' tagline was minted by the prime minister her housing minister conceded he was not delivering on KiwiBuild. Not even close - 1000 promised in the first year, fewer than 50 delivered.

There are questions too about whether the Provincial Growth Fund is delivering. National claims just 54 jobs have been created. Shane Jones disputes this but won't bolster his case with numbers.

Waitangi Day again produced good photo-ops of the PM behind the barbecue in the sunny north, but there was a long shadow too. Hopes of a Ngāpuhi settlement, high at Waitangi in 2018, have faded.

While there was goodwill towards Ardern, Ngāpuhi leader Sonny Tau asked politicians to come back next year with a clearer understanding of the Treaty. It was a not so subtle dig at her fumbled response to a reporter's questions about what was in the document.

With many of the government's working groups reporting back this year, much of the hard stuff lies ahead.

The report of the Tax Working Group, led by former Finance Minister Michael Cullen, will be released shortly. Having gone to the country in 2011 and 2014 with a capital gains tax policy from opposition and lost - do they finally dare to implement it from government?

This will become a bigger challenge if the economy slows. National has already begun to try and weave the prospect of a Capital Gains Tax into reports that investor confidence - at two-year lows this week according to ASB - is dropping.

Fears about New Zealand's deteriorating relationship with China is one of the government's other big challenges this year and is linked to economic performance given our trade reliance on the super power.

If the economy holds National has little chance. A personality contest would be no contest at all. The polls tell Bridges he can't compete with Judith Collins on popularity, let alone Jacinda Ardern. But he knew that anyway.

Perhaps that's why Bridges is opting for policy over personality, promising to release eight positioning papers this year.

That is to be welcomed. If it is to be a 'year of delivery' then let's see the Opposition deliver too.

The polling contest is always entertaining but ultimately politics is a contest of ideas.

This article was first published on Radio NZ.


PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles
103805 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automa…

by RNZ

Ms Ardern pledged the day after the terrorist massacre that "gun laws will change" and would be announced within 10 days of the attack.

Read more
No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 years of GCSB & SIS public docs
103770 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Politics

No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 y…

by Jane Patterson

There is not one specific mention of the threat posed by white supremacists or right-wing nationalism in 10 years of security agency documents.

Read more
Deirdre Kent: The woman who faced down the wrath of Big Tobacco
103798 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Profiles

Deirdre Kent: The woman who faced down the wrath o…

by Joanna Wane

As the face of anti-smoking lobby group ASH, Deirdre Kent played a vital role in the smokefree New Zealand movement.

Read more
Māori leaders say acts of terror nothing new in NZ
103766 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Currently

Māori leaders say acts of terror nothing new in NZ…

by Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Māori leaders are calling on New Zealanders to reject the notion that 'this is not us' in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Read more
Cynthia Millar and the strange beauty of the ondes martenot
103723 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Music

Cynthia Millar and the strange beauty of the ondes…

by Elizabeth Kerr

The sci-fi sound of the ondes martenot is playing a key part in the upcoming performance of an epic symphony.

Read more
Christchurch gunsmith warned police about white supremacists last year
103662 2019-03-20 00:00:00Z Crime

Christchurch gunsmith warned police about white su…

by RNZ

A Canterbury gunsmith living and working says he told police less than six months ago they needed to look at the rise of white supremacists with guns.

Read more
12 moments that show how New Zealanders have united in the face of terror
103665 2019-03-20 00:00:00Z Social issues

12 moments that show how New Zealanders have unite…

by Vomle Springford

In the following days after the Christchurch terror attacks, New Zealand has come together to support the victims of the shootings.

Read more
How modern art inspired the music of Anna Clyne's Abstractions
103649 2019-03-20 00:00:00Z Music

How modern art inspired the music of Anna Clyne's…

by The Listener

The works of the English contemporary composer feature in the NZSO’s forthcoming The Planets series.

Read more