ONe main reason why is my conviction that this is as bad as it can get. The last couple of months have been apalling for Labour. They've endured more horror and woe - much of it self-manufactured - than most political parties would endure in a term. A cabinet minister has apparently gone mad, and appeared in the court on criminal charges. The forces of conservatism and business conspired to incite people against the Electoral Finance Bill, designed to protect voters from the conspiracy and lies of precisely these sort of people.
The result? National 's support around the same level that they polled between May and August (2). They aren't breaking new ground, and this suggests that circa 55% is the absolute limit they can reach, with Labour at it's most unlikeable and quiescent, and with no National support dribbling away to other parties.
Yes, overall it is a very grim picture for Labour - they are 19 points behind in the latest Colmar Bunton poll. But - and this is the second reason I'm feeling phlegmatic - there is still about a year to go, and Labour seem to have been rope-a-doping, like Mohammed Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle, letting John 'George Foreman' Key waste his strength.
There are four reasons why I think Labour can turn it around before the election. I might, of course, be wrong, in which case Labour are probably doomed.
First, I suspect Labour are soaking it up, Ali style, and nursing their own strength for when it is needed. I would expect to see a big fight back starting in the New Year. Labour know it doesn't matter how good or bad you look a year out from polling day. I imagine national are expecting this, and will be preparing their own counter-punches. The question is who has the best shots left, and how well they use them.
Second, the New Zealand public will grow tired of the constant denigration of Labour by Key and his rightwing allies. The pictures of Helen Clarke with the Hitlerian moustace, and the current, fiasco about billboards (3) may well backfire. The rightwing can bleat about living in an authoritarian dictatorship, but the public will get tired of it very quickly, and realise people with the money to conduct personal vendettas aren't representative of them or their interests.
Third reason - Michael Cullen. I'm increasingly in awe of Cullen. Labour have fared apallingly, with more botches and blunders than any government should be allowed to make. But Cullen doesn't seem to stumble. He simply carries on, unflappable, delivering endlessly good economic news. Forget the tax cut that he'll inevitably deliver in 2008 (maybe even a whole packet of chewing gum this time) - think about the minimum wage, Working for Families, Kiwisaver ... all Good Things, and all associated with Cullen's adroit operation. And he's already talking about bolstering Working for Families. We need more of this sort of talk, because it will enthuse people.
My fourth reason for not being wracked by despair is that the National Party will cock up somewhere along the line. There have been ominous wobbles already - Bill English musing about selling atate owned enterprises (4), or Key's hints about making visits to the doctor the a privilege of the rich (5).
Should be an interesting year. Labour will have to fight hard to get into the crucial ten point territory, where they can lose the election and still form a workable coalition. I think they can do it, but whether or not they actually do it is another matter.
1 - "Polls deliver good results for National," by Martin Kay in the Dominion Post, 17th of December, 2007. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/4326321a10.html)
2 - In May 2007, Colmar Brunton polled National at 56% and Labour on 31%. In July, National were on 52% to Labour's 36%. In August, the figures were 53% to 36%. (http://www.colmarbrunton.co.nz/index.php?pageLoad=18)
3 - "Democracy Attacks Back," unattributed press release by the Free Speech Coalition (sic), 19th of December, 2007.
3 - 'Nats want to sell assets to finance tax cuts - PM,' by Paula Oliver in the New Zealand Herald, 24th of September, 2007. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10465539&ref=rss)
4 - 'National to scrap cap on GPs' fees,' by Sue Eden in the New Zealand Herald, 26th of September,2007. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10466057)