OPINION: Whatever one's political affiliations or ideological outlook, every New Zealander who cares about this country's future would agree that a robust political opposition is key to a healthy battle of ideas.
At the moment, though, the main opposition party is failing to put up a fight, and the public discourse is the poorer for it. There's a long way to go until election day, but Labour needs to start throwing some punches soon.
Yesterday's announcement by party leader David Cunliffe that a Labour government would ban trucks from the fast lanes on motorways and cut fees for light trailers and caravans wasn't simply underwhelming, it seemed almost comically lightweight.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee seemed genuinely bemused at the policy announcement, saying: "Someone's having us on. It can't be real. It cannot be their transport policy."
It was left for Labour deputy leader David Parker to assert, somewhat meekly, that "little things were important too".
Yesterday's announcement came just a couple of days after Cunliffe announced Labour would spend $20 million over 10 years to fight the spread of Kauri dieback disease.
While few Kiwis would oppose protecting one of the nation's iconic trees from a deadly disease, and presumably trucks driving in the fast lane in Auckland are the root of all traffic frustration, Labour seems to be lacking a broad vision for what kind of government it would lead. Or at least, if it has formulated that vision, it is having difficulty communicating it to the public.
While the policies announced in the past few days seem to have merit, does Cunliffe really think this election will swing on the plight of Kauri trees and trucks in the fast lane?
Every utterance by a Labour MP between now and polling day should be related to three things: economic and social inequality, the housing crisis, and why households would be better off if a Labour-led government was running the economy.
Cunliffe needs to be constantly in the face of voters, not skipping question time in Parliament as he did yesterday, or making it difficult for Campbell Live to do a "dinner with the leaders" puff piece at his home.
While National might be well ahead of Labour in the polls, public support is split relatively evenly between the left/right bloc of parties. The election result should be close, but only if Labour is focused on the issues of most concern to voters, and is disciplined in communicating a coherent message about what it will do to tackle those areas. At the moment, it doesn't appear to be either.
- Manawatu Standard
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