Labour struggles to look like government

00:00, Jun 30 2014
DAVID CUNLIFFE: Labour leader.

The really interesting party conference may not be the one that's just gone but the one that lies ahead.

The National Party has the look of an organisation keen to continue in government.

Riding high in the polls, National members were unsurprisingly buoyant at their conference in the weekend and one of the main messages was to avoid complacency.

We would expect to see enthusiasm from Labour members, too. What will be more telling, however, is how authentic this is.

It is one thing to put on a show of excitement, unity and conviction; it is quite another for it to be apparent to everybody that this is sincerely felt.

Labour's conference represents an opportunity for the party to refocus.


Senior figures will need to show their worth if the party is to mount a serious challenge for the Treasury benches.

We would expect Labour's regional development plan to be more comprehensive than National's, but this will not be at the heart of where the general election is won and lost.

With the economy going OK and the Government in control of its spending, Labour has a struggle ahead to persuade voters the country is on the wrong track.

Labour needs to look convincing as a party that will soon be ready to govern. At this stage, it is a long way from looking anything like it but, under MMP, a change in fortunes doesn't need to be massive for Labour to be in the hunt.

National's "Team Key" approach may well highlight what is wrong with the opposition. Labour has neither a leader of John Key's calibre nor a united team.

The Labour caucus still gives the impression it is bearing David Cunliffe's leadership under sufferance and hasn't much idea how to function successfully.

For example, the political correctness behind Labour's party list appears to have made Trevor Mallard's fight to hold on to his Hutt South seat more difficult. Mallard is standing in the electorate only, prompting National to target it.

Among Labour's recent own goals was finding a way to vote against the recovery of native timber felled in a cyclone.

That allowed Key to make this joke: "We're a government that's practical enough to know that when a storm blows trees over, you can mill them and create jobs.

"Compare that with the Labour Party who'd leave all that dead wood around doing nothing. Mind you, we shouldn't be surprised, because that's what they do in their own caucus."

If Labour is to get the last laugh, the party has to find its A game.

There is no time like the present.

Manawatu Standard