“A political reset button has been hit,” declared Patrick Gower. John Key’s resignation has “upturned the electoral landscape,” wrote Tracey Watkins. I think 2017 will prove them wrong. There are two reasons for this. First, the media narrative around ‘Brand Key’ is flawed. Second, the idea that Key’s departure will breathe new life into Labour is fanciful.
In all the excitement, commentators have missed a number of recent polls that suggest National has outgrown Key. In April, a One News-Colmar Brunton poll had Key on 39% and National on 47%. The following month a Newshub-Reid Research poll found Key’s support had plummeted to 36.5%, while National remained steady on 47%. The trend has continued. In its most recent poll, Colmar Brunton found Key (36%) lagging 14 points behind National (50%).
Then there is the claim that Key’s resignation somehow leaves the election wide open. As if all of the problems that have beset Labour for the last 8 years are going to miraculously disappear. Why? The government hasn’t imploded. We’re not in the depths of economic crisis. So long as Key’s successor can maintain the pretense of competent economic management, hold the National caucus together, and avoid major scandal, then the electoral landscape won’t be ‘upended’.
It really doesn’t matter if Bill English is ‘boring’. The average voter cares about their livelihood more than they care about the idiosyncrasies of some politician. And for a large number of voters, life has been good under this government. Labour needs to do a lot more than wait for National to self-destruct.
This post was originally written in December 2016.