Is David Shearer the right leader for Labour?
After five years of austerity, Kiwis see conditions improving, Prime Minister John Key says, with the latest Fairfax-Ipsos poll showing continued strong support for the Government.
Halfway through its second term, Key's National Party is riding high on 49.1 per cent support, up 4.5 percentage points since February, and would be able to govern alone.
Over the same period Labour had shed 4.4 per cent to 31.9 per cent, with respondents pointing to Shearer as weak and negative, Ipsos pollster Duncan Stuart said.
Key said today that the message in the poll was consistent with other indicators, reflecting a positive reaction to the Budget and a general improvement in economic conditions.
''Across a number of indicators people are positive,'' he said.
''They can feel and see change, and I think that after the better part of five years of recessionary conditions internationally and difficult conditions locally they can see some light at the end of the tunnel.''
Key said former Labour Finance Minister Michael Cullen said governments could not expect to win votes at the Budget, but only hope they would not lose them.
The Budget ''was a snapshot into the economic performance of New Zealand'' and compared well with Australia, which revealed a large deficit, and would likely stay in deficit for longer.
''It was a chance for New Zealanders to see 'well actually, our country is doing pretty well'.''
Since the last poll the Government has been blighted by a number of controversies, from the sale of shares in Mighty River Power and the collapse of Solid Energy, to major concessions granted to SkyCity in return for building an international convention centre.
However in three months the number of people saying they believed the Government was on the right track jumped 7 per cent to 59.2 per cent.
Key said political controversies were often seen in different ways, with some viewing them negatively and others viewing them as ''progress''.
''SkyCity convention centre engenders a lot of emotion with a very small group but to many other people they're either mildly pleased or ambivalent.''
Meanwhile a ''stark choice'' was emerging between the political left and right.
''Labour has hitched their wagon to the Greens and the Greens are dragging them to the left, and while that might please some of their base support, I think middle New Zealand would find the prospect of [Green Party co-leader] Russel Norman as the Minister of Finance terrifying.''
Labour leader David Shearer said the poll reflected only a ''post-Budget bump'' but the party was the only one dealing with issues which affected people most.
"It is not unusual for the governing party to get a post-Budget bump in the polls. But only Labour is tackling the issues that matter most to people - housing, jobs and sky-high power bills,'' Shearer said in a written statement.
"We know we face a long, hard slog over the next 18 months in the run up to the next election. But I'm confident in our policies and our plan for New Zealand."
Norman claimed the continued strong showing reflected Bill English's slick handling of the Budget, which hid underlying problems.
''The Government has effectively communicated the big lie of the Budget...that things are going well when it's actually a disaster,'' Norman said this morning.
''When you've got a $10 billion a year current account deficit and the finance minister plans to increase it to $17 billion a year and plans to borrow $61 billion over five years to cover it, that is an economic disaster.
''But Bill English got away with pretending with the big lie and the big lie that things are going well because we might get to surplus in the current accounts.''
Since the last poll, the Greens' support climbed slightly to 11.2 per cent.
A fall in the rate of unemployment was unlikely to have an impact because the changes were so small it was unlikely to impact voters' personal experience.
Since the last poll the Greens had, along with Labour, announced plans to reform the electricity industry through NZPower, a single state controlled buyer aimed at reducing prices.
Norman said shortly after releasing the policy there was a ''firestorm from the right'' attacking the plan, closely followed by the Budget.
In the coming months the policy was likely to connect with voters.
''I think as we progress into winter and people experience that the National party means higher power prices and less insulation in their houses...then we'll see whether NZPower gets more of a grip.''
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