OPINION: Few New Zealanders would be feeling over the moon right now about the situation being reflected in the political opinion polls.
The latest Roy Morgan poll, for example, indicates that support for the government has risen slightly and that support for Labour has plunged to below 30 per cent - yet even so, a coalition of the Greens, Labour and New Zealand First would still finish ahead of National and its current allies if an election was held today.
Overall, there's probably something in that poll to dismay just about everyone.
What the polls indicate is that most New Zealanders appear to want John Key as Prime Minister. However, they would narrowly prefer his current opponents to be running the country, while leaving the ultimate decision on that score to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. Strange, but true.
As things stand, Peters would be able to either install Labour leader David Shearer as the next Prime Minister - or alternatively, he could choose to keep the current government in power. He could virtually name his own price either way.
There would be very few New Zealanders (beyond the former member for Tauranga and his fan club) overjoyed at that prospect, but it is what the polls are currently projecting.
More than anything, the latest Morgan poll is bad news for Labour, and its leader.
All year, David Shearer's strategists have been claiming that as New Zealanders gradually get to know him, they will come to like what they see.
Instead, what seems to be happening is that voters are going through periodic fits of disenchantment with the government and then looking more closely at the alternative, only to rebound in alarm.
So far, Shearer has simply failed to make the case that he could lead a credible alternative government.
It is not as if the public's enthusiasm for the current administration runs particularly deep.
Yet by the same token, every time the Key government has got itself into trouble this year, a few rogue elements in the Labour caucus (eg, Trevor Mallard, Shane Jones) have proceeded to score an own goal, and create doubt about Labour's competence and coherence.
This would suggests that Shearer's flaws go beyond his public failure to be forceful and articulate, and extend to an inability to devise a consistent opposition strategy and ensure that his team sticks to it.
Recently, the Labour-leaning website The Standard listed the year's roll call of self-inflicted damage: from Mallard's ticket scalping debacle, to Shearer's speech about the beneficiary on the roof, to Jones' recent attacks on the Greens on behalf of his campaign donor, Sealords.
Add to this the fact that Labour education spokesperson Nanaia Mahuta appears incapable of capitalising on the flounderings of Education Minister Hekia Parata, and it is little wonder that the public's unease with National hasn't yet transformed into any marked enthusiasm for Labour.
Merely replacing Shearer with his deputy Grant Robertson would seem unlikely to improve matters.
Robertson and his electorate team are already well represented among Shearer's advisers, and thus seem more part of the problem than the solution.
Meanwhile, Shearer's time is running out. Mid-2013 would have to be the latest that Labour could make a leadership change, with enough time still before the next election.
- Horowhenua Mail