TVNZ has a new poll out tonight confirming that Labour are finally clawing back some support from National. Goff’s approval ratings are also up. Like I said the other day, I think this is down to the story of Bill English’s housing allowance breaking back in August. Many political reporters focus on recent events when they’re looking for post hoc explanations for polls; I think you have to go back at least a month. My theory is that most people don’t pay too much attention to politics outside an election year but if a political scandal breaks and then somehow resonates with voters’ everyday lives then you see a gradual shift in support.
Consider a previously loyal Labour voter who supported John Key in the last election: they didn’t care about Richard Worth or the super-city or cancelled evening classes or any of the other issues that Labour’s supporters are so excised about because they don’t seem very real to them. And then they read a story about Bill English getting paid $40,000 a year to live in his own home.
Maybe they don’t really care – they didn’t vote for English, they voted for John Key and he seems like he’s doing a pretty good job. And then maybe they find out they’ve got tree roots in their drains and it’s going to cost $12,000 to fix, and they’re going to have to raise the money off the mortgage. And then English gets up and tells everyone that they need to be frugal and cut costs and make sacrifices, only he’s still getting his $40,000 a year for his house – turns out he gets it because it’s not his house on account of some loophole with trust funds! Forty grand and he tells the rest of us to cut back! That’s most of their yearly salary! Fuck him! And fuck his party!
Or something like that, my point being that when it comes to party support people don’t spin on a dime when a story breaks, it needs to become real somehow and that can be a delayed process. Labour have done an uncharacteristically good job of keeping this story in the media without somehow shooting themselves in the foot (I don’t know where this burst of competence is coming from but I like it). In response National has adopted the Helen Clark method of scandal management: refer it to an investigation so you can refuse to comment pending the outcome. The Auditor General will almost certainly find that English was not in technical breach of the law but that the eligibility criteria for the living allowance needs to be ‘clarified’. So barring some unforseen revelation I think this one has played itself out – there’s really nothing English can do to recover, he’s been compromised and he’s fortunate that losing a Finance Minister in the first year would look even worse for his party than the current mess.