OPINION: Just two weeks after his often-criticised handling of the leadership aspirations of rival David Cunliffe, David Shearer - and the Labour Party - have come up trumps in two separate polls taken since the drama unfolded at the party's conference.
Although there are many pundits who pride themselves on being in tune with what the public are thinking, few, if any, picked that result.
The fallout from the Labour Party Conference, in which Cunliffe refused to endorse Shearer as leader, was considered to be a symptom of a party in disarray. As an effective opposition, Labour was struggling to make any headway and Shearer was less than impressive as the leader. That was one perception, anyway.
However, the public perspective was entirely different, the polls suggest. Far from showing support for Labour and Shearer being dented even further, a TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll reported Labour has risen three percentage points to 35 per cent of the party vote, its highest level since last year's general election.
A similar increase in popularity for Shearer, in which he went from 11 per cent to 15, was also recorded. In itself the poll may have been discounted, but a TV3News-Reid Research poll, also released on Sunday, produced a mirror-image result.
In both results, Labour and Shearer have confounded the critics. The reasons are interesting and diverse.
The Labour Party Conference was always going to be a challenge for its leader, with much emphasis placed on his keynote speech. By all accounts it was a stirring speech. It was delivered with an eloquence and emphasis that had not previously been a hallmark of Shearer's "Mr Nice Guy"' image, but the policy struggled to get the publicity it warranted.
It seems the electorate was listening, though. The Shearer speech was not simply a matter of style, either. The substance was picked up and the core policy announcement of spending $1.5 billion to build 100,000 basic homes for first-home buyers over the next 10 years clearly struck a chord.
Shearer also almost certainly benefited over his tough stance on Cunliffe and despite John Key's mischievous advice to "keep your enemies close", voters obviously agreed with Shearer's demotion of Cunliffe. Coupled with a 100 per cent caucus endorsement of his leadership, Shearer came across as decisive and the next two years until the 2014 election will be interesting.
Key's popularity is being eroded at a similar rate to Shearer's gains. Not coincidentally, Labour, the Greens and NZ First would now have enough seats to form a government, should an election be held.
There's a lot of water to go under the bridge before the next election, but just who owns it could be one of the enduring issues that decide which "nice guy", Shearer or Key, is the prime minister of this country after the next election.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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