Hard News by Russell Brown

Ill wind?

Looks like it's going to be another interesting round of polls. The odd thing about last night's One News Colmar Brunton poll, which saw National jump to 49% support, is that apart from the obvious - running a stark 10 points behind its rival - it's not all bad news for Labour.

Labour's party standing rose one point to 39%, suggesting that it might reasonably consider the high 30s as its bedrock support. Helen Clark's support as preferred Prime Minister was up a point to 35% too, with Don Brash narrowing the gap to six points. Approval of government performance was steady at 44%, although disapproval was up a couple of points to 42%.

And perhaps most significantly, there appears to be huge public support - 69% in favour and 24% against - for the proposed inquiry into the Treaty of Waitangi, which National has spurned. This is so going to happen now, with knobs, bells and whistles for yo' mama. Labour will be quietly delighted to have found some way through this issue that meets the public sentiment.

Less happy will be the small parties, all of which are now polling below the 5% MMP threshold, with the most prodigious fall from grace being that of New Zealand First, whose fairweather supporters continue to lurch back over to National. It's less clear what has happened to the Greens' support: down three points to only 2%. I have wondered all along how wedded the party's support base really was to its Treaty and foreshore policies, but this seems a prodigious collapse.

The political wisdom, of course, is that at election time - still 18 months away - the small parties enjoy greater exposure and their support rises. Then question then, of course, is whose support will give up those votes - will Winston's traditional grumpy vote be as flighty and volatile as ever? You can be sure that Labour won't be preening around talking about running things on its own this time. Coalition-building will be the buzzword from here on in.

Another oddity of the current climate is how much talk there is about something everyone seems to agree is trivial - Don Brash's historical marital infidelity. Diana Wichtel considered it in the Weekend Herald, as did Gordon McLauchlan, while John Roughan returned to the serious business of Maori-Pakeha relations. In the Sunday Star Times, Rosemary McLeod concluded a lengthy story on adultery by deciding that marital fidelity hasn't gone out of fashion altogether, and Finlay Macdonald declared that affairs of the heart weren't the right character issue for New Zealanders to be voting on.

The SST even devoted an editorial brief to it, concluding … well, it was hard to say, actually, although, apparently "Nobody thought the National leader had it in him". Now, I'm tolerant of most forms of human interaction, especially, but not exclusively, where they involve love and commitment (unlike National's deputy leader Gerry Brownlee, I'm not inclined to lump in same-sex civil unions with child prostitution). I'm in a long-term non-married, monogamous, child-bearing, home-and-business-owning relationship, but I wouldn't be judgemental of those who do stray - people do things for all kinds of reasons.

But the idea that Brash would become more attractive to voters because he deceived his wife (and, it would appear, the readers of North and South, who got a different account of events than his ex gave to the papers last week) seems a bit odd.

Anyway, it might be another bad-hair week for the Bush administration, with former White House security advisor Richard Clarke among those due to spill this week to the 9/11 special panel. Just to make it stick, Clarke is appearing on 60 minutes to say things like this:

"Frankly," he said, "I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know.

"I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.

And then this:

"Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq," Clarke said. "And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.

"Initially, I thought when he said, 'There aren't enough targets in-- in Afghanistan,' I thought he was joking.

"I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection, but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there saying we've looked at this issue for years. For years we've looked and there's just no connection."

What was that about the War on Terror again?