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The Press- News column Sep 9

Labour a long-shot for September 20.

With just 11 sleeps to election day and as the campaign trail hits the home straight, we seem to be back where we started. Despite all the political histrionics, National remains in pole position with Labour seemingly marooned on 25% support. The maths would suggest Team Cunliffe needs to hitting 30% if there is to be any sniff of a 6th Labour-led government, taking shape. Last week’s The Press Leaders Debate was a gripping spectacle to observe, once again delivering what could well be the killer campaign frisson, with David Cunliffe’s dismal inability to blow-torch John Key’s strategic query about whether family homes in trusts will attract capital gains tax. Cunliffe was not only flummoxed, but woefully outfoxed. At the half-time break, his platoon of crest-fallen advisors hastily tromped off back-stage, more ashen-faced than Mt. Tavurvur.  It was a catastrophe for the Labour leader, who, ironically, throughout much of the debate, was the more composed and commanding performer. ( A catastrophe because it became the dominating narrative of the campaign for the week that followed, as confusion and uncertainty about the tax policy festered.)  Bungles can have brutal consequences, and this gaffe by the leader matched his recent “I’m sorry for being a man” clanger. The Press debate also heralded what continues to be National’s central attack catchphrase, “ Labour’s Five New Taxes.”  An attack line designed to scare the bejesus out of middle New Zealand, the critical constituency of swing voters that decide elections.  Amongst my broad church of mates are many disaffected voters, some who feel estranged from Labour. A party they no longer perceive as sufficiently centrist, moderate and broad-based, but one that prefers to pander to liberal nostrums, practises gender quotas  and promulgates state dependency. Meanwhile, I have mates who are equally disenchanted with National , fed up with the worst excesses of Tory arrogance and born-to-rule hubris, all-too-often exhibited by Judith Collins and Stephen Joyce.  They’re shopping around for a party that can put a leash on a third term National-led government. Which is where New Zealand First and the Conservatives are sitting pretty, scooping up the votes of middle-of-the-road swingers, while Labour treads water. I’m picking we’ll see both New Zealand First and the Conservatives cross the 5% threshold on September 20. Is John Key going to be taken to task for shamelessly changing his tune about working with Winston?  An act of political expedience at its most majestic.  Finally, the Prime Minister repeatedly bangs on about  “New Zealand being on the cusp of an exciting future” and  a “really special time.” It sounds like SKY’s “Happy Place.” John Key needs to paint the details into the picture. Spell it out. Show us the vision.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, as published in The Press. September 9.

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