I hadn’t intended to do anything more on this mini-post than congratulate David and Karen. But I’ve decided to stick my neck out and make a prediction. I predict that a Labour/Greens coalition will win the 2014 election and that David Cunliffe will be New Zealand’s next Prime Minister. Labour might even go it alone. I’ve been provoked into this rash course of action by my former media partner on The Nation, Bill Ralston, who tweeted something to the effect that Cunliffe’s win was just another example of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Here’s my principal reason for thinking that Bill’s got it wrong. Since 2008 Labour has had no really effective opponent to John Key. Not Phil Goff, a nice guy and a really decent man, good in debate, but a relatively poor communicator where it matters most – on the box.
Not David Shearer, a nice guy and a really decent man, but miscast as Leader, not particularly good in debate and a poor communicator where it matters most – on the box. Not Grant Robertson, a nice guy and a really decent man, very good in debate, a reasonable communicator where it matters most – on the box – but somehow failing to register on the public consciousness where it also matters a lot. So for the last five years John Key has had something bordering on a free run. Which in turn has led to the false impression that no-one can beat John Key because John Key is a great communicator. Now, as it happens, I don’t think John Key is a particularly good communicator at all. Not at least in the sense of being verbally adept or impressive either as a speaker or in debate. But the absence of a charismatic opponent who had all those qualities has allowed Key to play to his greatest strength – that he is a man comfortable in his own skin, seemingly at ease with the world and himself, enjoying his life and his job, not too.
Fussed about anything, a multi-millionaire most people could imagine as a mate, seemingly without side or pretension. And where it matters most – on the box? Well, Key’s recent interview with John Campbell gives you your answer. But today the picture changed. John Key has some real opposition. David Cunliffe has a brilliant mind, is a brilliant speaker and debater and there is no politician to match him on the box. Cunliffe is the game-changer. And the proof of the pudding will lie where it has always lain – in the polls. And particularly in the Preferred Prime Minister poll. No party leader permanently registering under 15% in that poll, let alone dipping into single figures, can hope to enjoy the confidence of the electorate or lead their party to victory. And that has been the situation for every Labour Leader since 2008. But all that changed today as well. Under Cunliffe’s leadership, his and Labour’s poll rating will begin to rise, slowly but inexorably.