Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8: Dunne goes, citing 'mood for change'; National now needs Winston

Paula Bennett and Bill English during the announcement of National's GP visit policy. Photo by Lynn Grieveson

In today's email, we detail how the election campaign has been turned on its head ... again.

1. The moment of defeat in Ohariu

This picture said it all for the National Government yesterday.

Paula Bennett and Bill English had just found out that Peter Dunne had decided to pull his nomination from the Ohariu electorate. This effectively ended any faint remaining hopes that National had of being able to repeat its winning formula of the last three elections -- forming a Government on its own through supply and confidence arrangements with United Future, ACT and the Maori Party.

This was the moment they realised they would at least need to do a deal with Winston Peters to remain in Government. But more importantly, Dunne's exit from the race was the first proof on the ground that the 'Jacinda effect' is taking votes from the centre-right, rather than just reshuffling votes on the centre-left. A fourth term for National is now seriously in doubt.

The irony is that this moment of grimness on the faces of English and Bennett late yesterday morning happened in the Ohariu electorate itself. And it happened at the announcement of a policy that would normally have dominated the headlines as another National political masterstroke.

Instead, their announcement at the Onslow Medical Centre in Johnsonville of cheap doctor's visits for an extra 600,000 low income people and the expansion of the Community Services Card scheme to another 350,000 people was swamped by the coverage of Dunne's defeat.

Ironically, it was a moment of defeat for the Government that was staged in an electorate that should be a sure thing for National, and came at the announcement of policy shift to the left that has won it plaudits across the political spectrum in the past.

This was supposed to be the 2017 election campaign equivalent of Budget 2016's first real benefit increase in 30 years or this year's $2 billion family incomes package. The expansion of the $18 doctors' visit scheme and the community services card scheme were also the direct descendants of the original jump to the left that surprised everyone -- Budget 2014's free doctor's visits for 400,000 children under the age of 13.

But the headlines and the coverage were gone by the end of lunchtime.

Less than an hour after the policy announcement in Johnsonville (where Bennett and English knew of Dunne's decision but the media contingent there didn't) the news was out.

What should have been a triumphal event to announce a raid into centre-left territory was instead a strangely subdued affair. And now we know why. Newsroom's editor and photographer Lynn Grieveson took these pictures and couldn't help but notice the bleak looks on the faces of English and Bennett at what should have been a happy event.

2. 'A mood for change sweeping Ohariu'

Peter Dunne felt it building and sweeping through his electorate in the last 19 days and decided yesterday it was too much to resist.

The 'Jacinda effect' claimed its first victim on the centre-right yesterday. Metiria Turei's now infamous speech on July 16 revealing her welfare fraud has now bought down a third party leader, including herself and Andrew Little.

Dunne told Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva in an interview at 2 pm yesterday about the mood for change he noticed since the elevation of Jacinda Ardern to the leadership of the Labour Party and to the centre of the election campaign.

Up until earlier this month, the 63-year-old Dunne had been confident of being returned for a 12th consecutive term.

“All of the polling and other data that I was seeing from my electorate was extremely positive and showed me certainly well in front, so I saw no reason to go," he told Sam.

Then Jacinda happened.

“The change in the leadership of the Labour Party, while I don't think it’s had a material boost for Labour per se, what it’s done in Ohariu is unleash the possibility of change in people’s minds," Dunne said.

“A lot of people who might have felt they were inclined that way but couldn’t see an alternative suddenly saw it as a possibility.”

The tide was shifting, as had been seen in a Colmar Brunton poll of the electorate published on August 13 that showed Labour's Greg O'Connor on 48 percent support to Dunne's 34 percent, despite National's direction to its voters to give their electorate vote to Dunne and their party vote to National.

“They were all giving me a similar message that 'no hard feelings, you’ve done a great job, but maybe it’s time', and it just seemed to me that it was time I started listening," Dunne said.

Dunne likened the change to the Brexit and Trump shocks of 2016

“It’s just the sense of people feeling that old boundaries have gone and they can go every which way, and if they go this way, then it doesn't really matter because if they get it wrong, they go that way," he said.

“It’s very difficult to provide stable politics in that environment and be someone who likes to stand for a consistent line when suddenly all around you is swirling like a great maelstrom."

Indeed.

Here's Sam's interview in full on Newsroom Pro, where it was published first yesterday.

3. Dangerous interviews with Newsroom

Newsroom had better be careful. We're fast developing a reputation with our video interview requests as a type of political grim reaper around Parliament.

Sam Sachdeva's long-planned party leader's interview yesterday with Peter Dunne was the third leaders' interview we've done in a month where the leader resigned within 24 hours of the interview time.

Many days in advance, Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw organised an interview with Andrew Little for August 2. Little resigned on August 1 and the interview ended up being with Jacinda Ardern, in which she revealed the whisky cabinet she may use to tempt Winston Peters into a coalition.

Then Sam and Shane arranged a joint interview with Metiria Turei and James Shaw for 9 am on the morning of Wednesday August 9, in which Turei pledged that she was staying despite the controversy around her revelation of benefit fraud.

By 5.30 pm that day Turei had resigned.

Sam's interview with Peter Dunne was scheduled for 2 pm yesterday. Dunne resigned shortly before 1 pm and the interview turned into the sort of exit interview reserved for after resignations.

Currently, Newsroom's strike rate is 60 percent. We have also interviewed Winston Peters and Paula Bennett, but they survived. Bill English was too busy to see us. Lucky for him.

Although we do have competition for the title of grim reaper. Steve Braunias has been playing games of table tennis with the leaders and has tweeted he is to blame, while Robbie Nicol (WhiteManBehindaDesk) is also claiming credit.

Who knows who's next? The remaining party leaders should be safe for now. Our leaders video interview requests have finished.

But given the bolts from the blue (and the red) we've seen on the campaign trail so far, nothing can be ruled out.

There are still 32 days to go.

4. Comparing and contrasting

Political scientists Jack Vowles, Hilde Coffe and Jennifer Curtin have written a piece for Newsroom that is based on their book analysing the 2014 election.

'A Bark But No Bite: Inequality and the 2014 New Zealand General Election' draws on the New Zealand Election Study (NZES), a sample survey of about 2,800 people on the electoral rolls administered just after the 2014 election.

The book’s main theme, the politics of inequality, remains alive and well in 2017, they write. But Labour, the party that traditionally ‘owns’ this policy, failed to win the election in 2014. This is the puzzle that shapes 'A Bark But No Bite'.

They write there was a lot of talk about inequality before the 2014 election, and during the campaign, but it appeared to have no tangible effect on the election outcome.

"2014 was ‘an unequal election’ for three important reasons: 1) the issue of social and economic inequality was widely discussed during the campaign and voters identified it as an important issue, 2) economic inequalities continued to underpin the social foundations of voting choices between the parties, and 3) the National Party was by far the largest party in votes cast and seats won, and in its campaign outspent its main rivals by a considerable margin," they write.

"In those terms, the 2017 election may turn out to be very similar to that of 2014. But there are many new developments, in leadership most of all. Perhaps the 2017 election will be more equal, perhaps even equal enough for a change of government."

The full piece
is well worth a read.

5. Quotes of the day:

Bill English on Dunne's departure:

"Looking ahead from here, it is clear that with these developments and those that have occurred among the Opposition parties, that the election is a drag race between those who support New Zealand going in the right direction and building on it, and the Opposition parties who represent a pretty ill-defined alternative."

Peter Dunne on why he pulled out just 33 days before the election after a "sudden but firm" change in the mood in Ohariu:

"I thought to myself: do I go now with a modicum of dignity or end up facing cameras talking about why it all went wrong on election night?"

Dunne on why he has railed against politicians with big, bright ideas:

“I’m always wary of the politician with the big grand vision, the bold picture of the future, because it’s invariably founded on feet of clay, and I think the politicians who believe they can make a massive difference are deluding themselves and their country.”

6. Numbers of the day:

$380 million - The cost over four years of the Government's promised expansion of the $18 doctors' visit and community services card schemes.

$20 million - The cost of the first stage of the Regional Rapid Rail Plan that Labour committed to in its regional transport launch in Tauranga yesterday. It also committed to doubling the funding range for regional transport to $140 million to $280 million a year from the National Land Transport Fund.

7. Coming up...

Jacinda Ardern will reveal Labour's new TV commercials at an event in Auckland and on Facebook Live later this morning

Bill English will visit Pukekohe, Paeroa and KatiKati for campaign events later today.

August 23 - The next big set piece on the trail is Treasury's Pre Election Fiscal Update (PREFU) on Wednesday. It will be released at midday and is expected to give both Labour and National around $1.5 billion extra to spend. That will be a key moment. Ardern has signalled extra tertiary education spending, while Joyce has suggested extra Auckland infrastructure spending.

August 23 - The final day for people to enrol to vote regularly. Anyone enrolling after August 23 will have to cast a special declaration vote.

August 31 - The first leaders debate on TVNZ.

September 4 - Then TV3 has its leaders on September 4.

September 7 - The Press/Stuff leaders debate will be held in Christchurch

September 11 - Polling booths open for early voting.

September 20 - The final leaders debate on TVNZ.

September 23 - The General Election.

October 12 - Winston Peters has said he will make a decision about which party he 'crowns' to be in Government by October 12, which is when the writs with the final election results are returned..

8. Some fun things

Philip Matthews after the controversy over Gareth Morgan's comments and Bill English's comments in a Newshub interview last night about his bad acne:

"Have we gone from lipstick on a pig to pimples on a rock?"

WhiteManBehindaDesk claiming his video interviews with party leaders were a bad omen:

"To the politicians booked in for our Auckland show next week who might be getting nervous: please remember that correlation ≠ causation."

Peter Dunne's departure was a gift for Twitter's comedians.

James Macbeth Dann: "The worm has finally turned."

Claire Trevett: "Dunne like dog's dinner. The Jacindarator strikes again."

And finally, no 'fun things' would be complete without a joke at Donald Trump's expense:

The New Yorker's Andy Borowitz: "Trump’s Horrific Spelling Reassures Nation That He Cannot Correctly Enter Nuclear Codes."