Friends who deal daily with myriad “ordinary voters” assure me that there is not the anger with the Government that there was in 1990. How then to explain the persistent gap between Labour and National, which appears to be widening if anything?
TV3 News thought to find out with some vox pops. One woman summed up the views of many, “I think we’re really fickle, the LCD is old and we want the new Sony Bravia…” Concluded 3News, “People appear to want change, but many are not sure why or to what.”
There is undoubtedly widespread ‘Helen-fatigue’. Even the most charismatic leader would find maintaining her popularity after 9 years in charge a hard ask, and charisma is not a quality normally associated with Clark. Helen-fatigue first popped up in my experience a couple of years ago when a colleague, whose opinion I respect, admitted that he might vote National simply because he had grown “tired” of Clark and wanted a change. But there’s more to it than that.
First though, recall that Labour had a fairly easy run in 1999 and 2002 — opponents to die for, you might say — but nearly lost in 2005. With 2% more of the vote at 41.1%, Labour may have been saved by some sharp-witted former Exclusive Brethren. NZ voters have consistently shown that they can cut the MMP cheese very finely to get the result that they want. Labour has been the preferred option to form a government, but has never been trusted enough to govern alone.
My view has long been that hubris would be Clark’s undoing. In the past she has opined that people with leaky homes ought to have bought villas like herself, or stated that she didn’t need to talk to the police about her forged painting, and so on. However, New Zealanders are prepared to forgive a great deal in return for perceived competence and confidence about being in charge. Witness Muldoon’s extraordinary career.
Chris Trotter identified the tipping point, in my view, in a February SST column “Helen of destroy loses faithful.” He recalls the 2005 election victory:
“Labour had been returned to office on the strength of its socially conservative working-class base. State-house tenants most of them parents had turned out in their thousands to stave off a National win. It was their votes that had purchased Clark’s ticket to a third Victory Ball. And where they came from, you danced with the person you came with.”
And the turning point:
“But then Sue Bradford sashayed on to the floor with her anti-smacking bill.
“To Clark, the case against smacking was morally self-evident. But to Labour’s conservative working-class supporters it represented the lofty condescension of a childless politician who clearly believed she knew more about raising kids than they did. Clark knew her working-class base didn’t want her to pass the bill and they knew she knew. But she passed it anyway.”
Last year some argued that the Electoral Finance Bill would not affect voter behaviour. The voters weren’t interested in the esoteric arguments about campaign financing, went the thinking. That may well be right. But the symbolic import of ramming more unpopular legislation through Parliament should not be underestimated.
Arguably, this Government has been the best in my life-time. It has delivered on its promises, and it has been prudent and fair in its economic stewardship. It has even done something to secure a comfortable retirement for large numbers of NZers. It has not been afraid to do these things, even when they are unpopular or misunderstood.
It doesn’t deserve to lose, even if it has brought some of its fate on itself.