Labour needs some focus

01:50, Aug 27 2009

Labour needs some focus. That much is becoming abundantly clear as this new parliamentary session swings into gear. (Update below.)

After both sides slumbered through the two-week recess, I was expecting the Opposition to come out all guns blazing on Monday. But most of the shooting seemed to be straight into Phil Goff's foot.

The embarrassing U-turn Goff had to make over the payment of the dole to high-income earners yesterday encapsulated Labour's indecision at the moment over exactly what it is it stands for.

Eyebrows were raised during the last week of the election campaign when Labour came out with the idea of paying everyone who lost their job the dole, no matter how much their partners earned, while National offered a much more targeted scheme.

It was lost in the melee of the final few days, and God only knows why Goff and Annette King thought it a good idea to resurrect it. There can't be much mileage among its core supporters for offering to take the tax dollars of Kiwi battlers and give it to the spouses or partners of those on big salaries.

Labour needs some focus. That much is becoming abundantly clear as this new parliamentary session swings into gear. (Update below.)

After both sides slumbered through the two-week recess, I was expecting the Opposition to come out all guns blazing on Monday. But most of the shooting seemed to be straight into Phil Goff's foot.

The embarrassing U-turn Goff had to make over the payment of the dole to high-income earners yesterday encapsulated Labour's indecision at the moment over exactly what it is it stands for.

Eyebrows were raised during the last week of the election campaign when Labour came out with the idea of paying everyone who lost their job the dole, no matter how much their partners earned, while National offered a much more targeted scheme.

It was lost in the melee of the final few days, and God only knows why Goff and Annette King thought it a good idea to resurrect it. There can't be much mileage among its core supporters for offering to take the tax dollars of Kiwi battlers and give it to the spouses or partners of those on big salaries.

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Presumably the idea was to put some heat on the Government over unemployment, but it backfired badly. Instead of putting John Key, Bill English, and Paula Bennett on the back foot in the House, Labour endured a kicking as the Nats hooted their way through Question Time over Goff's flip-flop.

Meanwhile, Labour is proposing a banking inquiry in conjunction with the Greens and the Progressive. It's the inquiry when you're not having an inquiry, however, since the Government has already blocked a real one from taking place. It's kind of like having a party with your friends in your bedroom after your parents refuse to allow you to invite the neighbourhood round for a proper shindig.

An unofficial inquiry has no status, no ability to call witnesses or other evidence, and frankly, no point. National, ACT, and the Maori Party will almost certainly boycott it. I'd be staggered if any of the big banks turn up. And ironically the heat has started to go out of the issue anyway.

It's doubtful the public's number one concern at the moment is interest rates. The housing market seems to have settled and may even be inching up again. The time for a banking inquiry was three months ago, not now.

Labour's also attacking the appointment of former National leader Don Brash to the new productivity taskforce, calling him a stalking horse for privatisation. Goff says it will lead to a renewal of ideas soundly rejected at the 2005 election.

Actually, as Key pointed out in the House yesterday, National wasn't "soundly rejected'' at the 05 election - it only lost by the narrowest of margins. And it was probably the Exclusive Brethren that spooked voters more than National's privatisation agenda.

Frankly, as Brash is so fond of saying, I'm interested in any ideas that might lift our productivity, wherever they may come from. I'm certainly not hearing any from Labour or National.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - Labour needs to work out what it stands for now. Maybe it's just me, but I can't quite work it out at the moment. It's front bench is a mixture of invisible men and egos looking for a platform.

Trevor Mallard just wants to cause trouble in the House with endless procedural points, David "I am Harvard'' Cunliffe is embarrassingly smug and twee, Goff is shooting all over the place, and Annette King is (surprisingly) losing the battle in the House against Paula Bennett, where the feisty Westie is more on top of her portfolio than she is given credit for. 

Parekura Horomia is invisible (no easy task for him), so is Chris Carter, and Clayton Cosgrove has been uncharacteristically quiet. Ruth Dyson and Maryan Street continue to plug away but - and no disrespect to either, they're both very nice people - I get the feeling at the moment that every time they open their mouths they remind the public of why they voted National last year.

Labour badly, desperately, urgently needs to promote some fresh talent. Jacinda Ardern, Stuart Nash, Grant Robertson, Phil Twyford, and David Shearer. Then it needs to work as a team.

The current lot are making the Government look good. And it isn't that good. 

UPDATE: Goff had another terrible day in Parliament today after the case of poor old Bruce Burgess, a constituent in John Key's electorate no less, who having worked hard all his life now couldn't get any assistance from the state after losing his job.

Labour shopped the story to the Herald this morning, which ran it without question. Trouble was, poor old Bruce owns two rental properties besides his lifestyle block in a leafy part of Helensville - in other words, he has assets of at least a million dollars. Now, that doesn't mean he isn't suffering, but that wasn't the picture presented to the public by Goff or the Herald this morning.

Also, according to the Government, Bruce is eligible for $92 a week state assistance - something that wasn't pointed out earlier either.

Once again, an issue that should have run in Labour's favour ended up backfiring badly.