Another round of political polling has delivered essentially the same message as the last: Labour and National are neck-and-neck, and the momentum is with National. Last night's One News Colmar Brunton poll had National edging ahead 43-41; this morning's Fairfax poll has Labour ahead 40-38.
Labour's biggest asset remains its leader. Even with a sharp revival in the One News poll, Don Brash's preferred Prime Minister rating is only half that of Helen Clark's. How Labour can present Clark will be crucial. I'd expect a very presidential pitch.
Labour's other problem has been draining-off of the senior vote to New Zealand First. I've spoken to two people with insight into Labour canvassing, and they're striking older voters who profess no particular enmity towards Labour, but believe that Winston will "keep them honest." Whether that lasts is open to question: the last two polls suggest the run may be coming to an end.
On the other hand, for all that Brash is claiming that the public likes National's other policies - on education, law and order and the Treaty - the evidence suggests that its pick-up in support is largely based on the policy it has yet to spell out: tax.
The Dom Post says the Fairfax poll that two out of three of even Labour voters felt they were due a tax cut. Well, that was the headline, anyway. As the Greens' Frogblog has been quick to point out today, it's a wee bit more complicated than that.
Fifty per cent of respondents did not support tax cuts if that was to mean cuts in public expenditure. Only 38% of Labour voters (still a pretty large chunk) said they would favour tax cuts if that meant spending cuts. It would have been interesting to see the response if people had been asked about their attitude to tax cuts funded by government borrowing. At any rate, the Dom Post's angle was wrong.
At the moment, people are being asked about tax cuts in the abstract. When they are confronted with the explicit detail of what they really stand to get, and where National will cut expenditure and, if necessary, borrow money, things may change a little. National has indicated that it won't unveil its secrets until Labour names an election date. I'm not sure how long Labour can allow National to keep its policy under wraps.
Speaking personally, it's National's other policies that I dislike. The law and order policy will ramp up prison populations from day one, with no realistic prospect of increasing capacity (which is already inadequate) for two or three years, and I think it would be counterproductive in other ways too. The Treaty policy is a recipe for endless, draining conflict. And the education policy - launched as a sort declaration of war on teachers - is dishonest: National is railing against school zoning, but will not actually change school zoning (ie: the right of pupils to attend their local school) in any meaningful way; leaving the policy not only permissive of school failure (a necessary condition of the proposed "elite" schools expansion) but contingent on it.
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Vaccination issues, again: the US left (via The Huffington Post and others) has gone off the rails on the idea that thimerosal, a mercury-based compound used as a preservative in some vaccines, has been responsible for a rise in autism diagnoses in the last couple of decades. The main problem with this theory is that its proponents suggest no physiological means by which this could happen (especially without triggering a corresponding rise in all other kinds of brain problems). But Respectful Insolence and Autism Diva do a better job than I could of explaining why the vaccine alarmists are wrong.
Regarding the continuing MeNZB controversy, I was contacted by W, who has been involved with the design of clinical trials as a computer programmer and believes there would have been scope for a Phase 3 trial of the vaccine in South Auckand, where the disease is most prevalent. He believes politicians and the medical establishment have "lost their heads" over the issue, and compares the death rate from the disease to that of children in car crashes every year.
On the other hand, I also got this email from Perry Bisman, father of little Charlotte Cleverley-Bisman, who lost her limbs to the disease:
Meningococcal is a winter disease like the flu. Often, high rates of flu are mirrored by high rates of meningococcal. Having the flu or being in the midst of an outbreak is not enough to warrant postponing the MeNZB vaccination. One is viral, the other bacterial so it's like comparing apples with pears and there are no safety concerns with administering MeNZB to children with the flu.
As the debate continues over the vaccination, bear in mind that independent overseas medical authorities including the World Health Organisation have approved every step of the Ministry of Health's research and that of independent trials carried out by Auckland University.
If proponents of anti-immunisation can bring similarly verified facts to the table then I for one would be prepared to listen but they haven't yet because they have misinterpreted the medical facts due to their own lack of understanding on the subject.
I fear this is confusing the issue for many parents who can only make an informed decision based on the correct information.
At the end of the day, this vaccine is not much different from the highly sort after flu vaccine, an OMV or Outer Membrane Vesicle vaccine. This type of product doesn't need to go to phase three testing as some medicines do (similar vaccines are released in the USA, UK and Australia among others without phase three testing) and some claim proves it hasn't been fully tested.
To say the Ministry of Health doesn't know the outcome is stretching the truth somewhat. The NZ B strain of meningococcal is specific to this country and therefore impossible to test without using it here in NZ. However, after 70 odd years of using vaccines, there are expected outcomes that throughout trials and the roll-out have come to pass.
That is that the vaccine raises the anti-body levels four fold in 75% of cases.
Third phase testing would add years we do not have to the release date and might give a clearer indication of efficacy but would not provide any further safety data.
I am an unwilling participant in this debate but I cannot sit by and let people make claims about this vaccine that do not stack up with the facts as verified by medical authorities including the World Health Organisation.
By the way, "Baby" Charlotte is doing really well and will be vaccinated next week. Having this disease does not make one immune. The only way to raise the anti-body levels sufficiently is via vaccination. This is now a preventable disease and the facts speak for themselves.
I would still take issue with the idea that there is no problem with administering MeNZB to children with the flu - even MoH is advising against that - and I still think the official advice to parents has been inadequate, but I certainly concur with Perry on the issue of trials and long-term safety.
And on a happier note, Michael Campbell has just won the US Open!
PS: Just heard from someone in Melbourne that the radio there was describing Campbell as "an Australasian who lives in Sydney." No, he's a New Zealander who lives in Brighton, England, you desperate buggers ...