A MYOB poll of 401 small to medium businesses has shown that Labour is now the preferred party of SMEs, with 38% favouring Labour and 35% supporting National. A further 5% voted ACT, while 3% supported the Greens.

So overall, most businesses favour the left bloc over the right bloc, although only by a small margin.

If you are wide-eyed with shock at this result, you are not alone. First of all, I can see no reason why a poll conducted by MYOB, an accounting software company, should be biased, and they state clearly that this is the first time in the 10 years that they have been polling that National has not been the preferred party of small business.

So small businesses support 2 minimum wage hikes in the middle of a pandemic? They support an extra public holiday and an extra 5 days sick leave every year, and miscarriage leave. Really? The government that has mercilessly increased costs for small business is favoured by the majority of business owners? What about orchardists? Farmers? Restaurant owners in Auckland who kept having to throw away food because of impromptu lockdowns? Tourism businesses? Everywhere I look, businesses are struggling as a direct result of this government’s policies and yet they still favour Labour over National? What is this – masochism of the highest order?

There can only be one explanation for this change, and it is an ugly one for the National party. We have the least business-friendly government in a generation that is preferred by local businesses over National because the National party is making no traction against the government. They’ve had plenty of opportunities, but it simply isn’t happening.

The BFD. Cartoon credit BoomSlang

You can blame Simon Bridges all you like, but to me, the real disaster for National started with Todd Muller. His catastrophic failure as the leader will go down in history probably as the most damage anyone has ever inflicted on the party. When he resigned, after a mere six weeks as the leader, he took a number of senior MPs with him.

National Party stalwarts might say that it gave the party a much-needed cleanout, but that was not the way the public perceived things. It made the party look shambolic, disorganised and unfit to govern. Judith Collins took over and steadied the ship, but three leaders in as many months was never going to give the public confidence in the party. As one voter said at the time – if they cannot organise themselves, how do they expect to run the country?

But six months after the election, National is still making no headway, at a time when opportunities abound. As COVID starts to take a back seat in domestic affairs (and the government’s handling of the vaccine is very poor), there is plenty that National can use to attack the government. Housing, homelessness, increasing crime, billions spent on motels, fruit rotting on the ground – there is a rich abundance of things that this government is handling extremely badly, yet National seems to make little headway.

Is it the media? We all know Jacinda is the darling of most media outlets, and yet even they have been criticising the government recently, albeit mildly. Still, it is a start and, as we all know, the media will turn on the government eventually. It looks like the Teflon is starting to wear thin, and with luck, the media will be in full attack mode as the next election approaches, as it is almost certain that they will still have achieved absolutely nothing by then.

Media speculation that there is going to be a leadership coup in National is doing the party no favours either. National needs to show stability and support for its leader if people are going to consider it seriously again. Really, it is much too soon to start talking up Christopher Luxon as the next party leader – he has been in parliament barely six months and doesn’t know his way around yet. This type of speculation has a destabilising effect; three leaders in three months was bad enough – four in a year is potentially disastrous. The party really doesn’t need optics such as these.

The BFD. Things that make me go hmm

In my opinion, Todd Muller needs to exit the party as soon as possible. His puerile photo opportunity supporting children wagging school last Friday does not provide the party with a point of difference, and most of National’s supporters roll their eyes in despair when they see pictures like this. Sadly, Todd Muller doesn’t seem to realise that, which is why he needs to leave. Now.

For myself, I would like to see a bit more mongrel from Judith Collins. She has Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis doing some good work, and Shane Reti is very good on health, but I would like to see a bit more bite from the leader herself. This is do or die for Judith; she has to make a real mark and score some serious points against the government. She seems to have taken a softly-softly approach, knowing a lot of voters didn’t like her ‘Crusher’ moniker, but many of those people would never vote for her anyway.

With the economy in decline, borrowing out of control, the vaccination rollout a shambles, house prices soaring away and $4 billion a year being spent on emergency accommodation, Judith Collins has rich pickings. She needs to show a little more of that no-nonsense persona that got her the nickname “Crusher” even if she doesn’t have to go the whole way.

Finally, National needs to start offering alternatives. We need to see some policy. Sure, the next election is a long way off, but there is no reason why they can’t start developing some alternative policies now. By the time the election campaign starts, they could have a huge portfolio of policies that voters could consider as a viable alternative to a government that talks a lot but does nothing.

They say that oppositions don’t win elections but that governments lose them. That might well have been the case last year, were it not for COVID. Judith Collins has softened her image, but now it is time for her to get some real hits on the government. If she wants to be prime minister – and we all know that she does – this is her last chance. National needs to give the public something to vote for. Six years of this government will be bad enough; nine years could be a disaster from which we might never recover.

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