Shearer's speech: Style over substance

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Last updated 05:00 28/01/2013

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OPINION: Labour's David Shearer may not have been smooth, but he was genuine and a man of substance.

So the spin went last year when he was struggling to sound fluent during speeches and impromptu press interviews. He was, if you like, substance over style. But his address to party faithful yesterday - not a "state of the nation" speech exactly, but a scene-setter for the year - was the exact reverse.

The delivery had the punch evident last year when he saw off the challenge from David Cunliffe and used the party's bold housing policy to woo party activists at Labour's annual conference.

The joke about Prime Minister John Key's "epiphany" over the need for more apprentices got a good laugh: "I thank the focus group that brought that to his attention."

These days Mr Shearer is taking no chances on the presentation front, even using an autocue when talking to about 170 party faithful in a Wainuiomata rugby clubroom.

But if there were new lines, there was also a swag of old ones, including Labour's theme du jour: The need for "hands-on government".

Nowhere was a new policy to be seen.

He did sow some seeds, telling a team of MPs to find ways to turn economic buzzwords such as smart growth into meaningful programmes ("not airy-fairy concepts") and setting up another to examine how to improve the transition from school to more training and high-skill jobs.

Perhaps Labour thinks that, while National is squirming, there is no point hiding its popular housing plan under a bushel of new policies.

So, for now, big new ideas are on hold, while Labour builds up its leader's confidence and credibility and tries to cash in on what it hopes is a growing mood against National.

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