24 Aug 2023

Don't stop believing: ACT hits fawke in the road as Labour falls & National stalls

From Caucus, 2:00 pm on 24 August 2023

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Analysis - A new 1News Verian poll shows it is an uphill battle for the centre-left bloc, while ACT starts to feel the pressure of wanting to be treated like a big party. Does it risk blowing up like a Guy Fawkes night firework? 

Chris Hipkins' falling popularity narrows Labour's potential path to victory, while National steps on Pharmac's independence in its rush to make Christopher Luxon appear more caring.

This week's episode of Caucus looks back to parallels between this campaign and the 1999 election, while Shane Jones takes to the hills to sing for Northland. 

The 1News Verian Poll put National at 37 percent, Labour at 29 percent, ACT at 13 percent, the Greens at 12 percent, NZ First at 3.7 percent, Te Pāti Māori at 2.6 percent and TOP 0.6 percent.

Guyon Espiner said in order for National to be a credible leader of the next government, it needs to be up in the late 30s and they seemed to be going in that direction.

"It's interesting to me that ACT's vote had held up so well with National clearly on the rise and having some momentum and at that level of 13 percent, they would be the biggest, you know supporting partner in a government we've ever seen other than New Zealand First in '96."

The fact ACT could be a significant player in the next government would encourage people to delve into the party's background to find out more about it, he said.

Lisa Owen said ACT leader David Seymour had been laying the groundwork knowing his party's figures "have been building and holding".

ACT party leader David Seymour

ACT leader David Seymour Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"Just looking back at David Seymour's comments over the last few months and he has said ACT should no longer be seen as a small party, and of the partnership with National he said they're going to have to be prepared to share power and be prepared to reverse policies that the Labour Party has put in place."

Owen said the trend in the polls was not Labour's friend, but National's, as a slide to the right had become evident.

Seymour this week created controversy after this comment on scrapping the Ministry of Pacific Peoples: "We'd probably send a guy called Guy Fawkes in there and it would be all over, but we'd probably have to have a more formal approach than that" - Seymour later said it was a joke.

Espiner said it made him wince when he heard the comment.

"He's (Seymour's) got some good lines, that wasn't one of them, it was appalling and I think you just, sometimes you get it wrong, the joke you made falls flat or just doesn't land and is in poor taste."

Espiner said it was a mistake and he believed Seymour should have apologised.

Labour's GST policy: 'The wheels have fallen off the supermarket trolley'

The polling period was when Labour leader Chris Hipkins dropped his biggest policies including GST off fruit and vegetables, she said.

But Espiner said the wheels had fallen off the supermarket trolley.

"Five hundred million dollars a year as a policy, the big hit of the policy to launch the campaign, it's an utter dog, people don't like it, no-one can find anyone who supports it with any degree of economic credibility."

But Watkin said he was not convinced and Labour people who he had spoken to still believed the policy would help pick up the party's popularity.

"Voters aren't upset about macroeconomics, it's filling the car, it's feeding the kids."

Julian Wilcox said Labour was counting on Chris Hipkins to outdo Christopher Luxon on the campaign trail in the hope it would drag some support back to the centre and back to Hipkins - but that probably would not work.

Labour picked the wrong policies and they did not land well with the public, he said.

"Counting on him (Hipkins) to out campaign Luxon in a leadership style election is not going to work."

Watkin said the poll's preferred leadership rating had narrowed, with 20 percent now supporting Luxon and 21 percent support for Hipkins.

It had always been "lack lustre Luxon" but now it was also "ho hum Hipkins", he said.

Espiner said it was very hard for him to see Labour coming back after the recent polling figures.

National and cancer drugs

National has pledged to roll back part of the free prescription charges, so they would still be free for community service card holders and superannuitants, with charges capped at $100 per whānau, but everyone else would pay $5 for the prescription with charges.

National would then use the $70 million or so saved per year to fund 13 new cancer treatments.

Espiner said he thought the policy would be popular, but he was concerned that naming the 13 cancer drugs would "utterly upend Pharmac's negotiating power".

"So if you're a drug company right and you're producing this drug, you know that Pharmac has to fund it because you've got a government promise."

It trampled on Pharmac's independence, he said.

Wilcox said it was an example of Luxon trying to paint himself as a leader in saying "this is what we're going to do".

Owen said it also made Luxon look "warm" as a leader, something National had been aiming for.

She said Checkpoint that night had a lot of texts from listeners who were irritated by Luxon "taking from someone to give to someone else in the health arena".

Espiner said he thought the policy did represent good politics in that everyone knew someone who had had cancer and the cost of treatments had been an ongoing issue for many New Zealanders.

NZ First's succession plan?

New Zealand First has released a video stating that it would not return Labour to power.

Espiner said he believed New Zealand First wanted to return to Parliament, but not necessarily to be part of the government.

"New Zealand First is surrendering its leverage to get back into Parliament right, it wants to be in Parliament not in government really. Because if it wanted to be in government it would use that 'oh we could go with either side' and then you go in and do the deals."

Wilcox said NZ First want to get back into Parliament because Shane Jones wants the leadership.

"I think he (Winston Peters) just wants to get in to shove it up people and say 'I can get back in against all odds' and then peaceful transition of power."

In the countdown to Election 2023, the Caucus podcast is out every Thursday afternoon and plays on RNZ National at 6pm each Sunday.