Revelation does Labour little good

12:45 pm on 31 July 2017

Power Play - The Labour Party is in a perilous position so close to a general election, with Andrew Little openly questioning whether he is the right person to be leading the party.

A disastrous 1 News Colmar Brunton poll putting Labour at 24 percent, and an internal party poll understood to reflect a similar result, prompted Mr Little to go to senior colleagues and discuss whether a change in leadership was necessary.

Jacinda Ardern and Andrew Little

Jacinda Ardern, pictured with Andrew Little in March, will be looking to play the long game. Photo: RNZ / Brad White

Mr Little says he did not offer to resign, but he was clearly presenting it as an option.

This is an extraordinary revelation, and is as damaging to Labour as the poll result itself.

It is too late for these kinds of discussions to even be taking place. Putting aside the loss of confidence a leadership change would cause, there are also logistical considerations - including the thousands of pamphlets printed and billboards erected with Mr Little pictured as leader.

The other question is which MP would take on the leadership under these circumstances and then potentially wear an election loss.

Deputy leader Jacinda Ardern will be looking to play the long game, and position herself for a leadership contest after the election - a contest Labour had to hold after both the 2011 and 2014 elections.

Other senior MPs are already starting to plot for such an outcome.

This is dangerous territory for Labour with broader implications for after the election. If the party drops below about 22 percent Mr Little and, potentially, list MP David Parker could lose their seats, and the party may not be able to bring in any new talent.

One of the reasons polling has to be treated so carefully is it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If voters don't believe a party is a credible option they will look elsewhere - and publicly talking about the leadership just reinforces the low polling.

In Labour's view it has been hurt by the controversy over its intern scheme, and the Greens and New Zealand First sucking up all of the oxygen over the last few weeks.

However, if a party's support is that fragile, that is a problem in itself.

Mr Little's revelation will certainly put Labour back in the headlines, if nothing else.

But where is its support going? If the polls are to believed, its sharp drop in the Colmar Brunton survey benefited the Greens. That does not grow the vote on the left and will not help that bloc put together a government if the vote is just sloshing around between them.

The Opportunities Party is also creeping up, and could be an option for Labour voters who have lost faith, and potentially National supporters - especially among the Blue Greens - looking for a new home for their votes.

New Zealand First is on a roll of its own and would only benefit from a weakened Labour Party.

National's support remains strong and without a credible alternative government, it can absorb more voter discontent.

By all accounts Mr Little still has the backing of the Labour caucus, with the belief a leadership change would be more damaging than keeping him on.

However, if the polls continue to fall, MPs may lose their nerve and start pushing for Mr Little to step aside.

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