OPINION: If the Labour leadership battle really was a reality TV show, then Grant Robertson proved yesterday he's got the X- Factor.
His campaign had got off to a lacklustre start this week, dragged down by persistent focus on his sexuality and the perception that he would struggle to resonate outside the Thorndon triangle.
The early stages of the contest have been dominated by rhetoric that David Cunliffe is the party favourite.
Robertson went some way to breaking down those walls yesterday, with an electrifying speech that hit all the right notes of vision, policy and a taste of his self-deprecating wit.
Underdog Shane Jones was first to the cramped podium yesterday - and gave a memorable turn, light on politics but full of humour. Speaking off the cuff, he did a solid job selling himself and boosting his credibility.
Robertson and Cunliffe's carefully crafted addresses came down to "I'm Left." "No. I'm Lefter" Everyman Jones impressed the need to "tack a little left and tack a little right" when necessary.
Cunliffe gave an impressive ten-minute tub-thumper. He talked of a red tide taking over the Beehive, equal society and families doing it tough.
The Kiwi dream had become a nightmare - and the Nat's laissez faire has resulted in "laissez unfair." If this contest was about slogans, Cunliffe topped the hit parade.
Exuding all the confidence of a former government minister, he'd done his homework and threw out dozens of economic facts.
But it was mostly rhetoric, spoke only of currency policy settings, and offered little insight into the leadership he would provide. It was also a little flat - perhaps the ridicule directed at his zealous campaign launch dented his confidence. It's likely that will be back in spades when the New Lynn MP speaks on home turf at two meetings in Auckland today.
Last to speak was Wellington Central MP Robertson, and he softened up the crowd with a joke at Prime Minister John Key's expense. If this the selection process was a television show then Prime Minister John Key is "the weakest link."
Another crowd pleaser was the quip that jobs tsar Steven Joyce's idea of economic development is a night on the tiles at Sky City casino.
He got the laughs. But what appealed more was his promise to repeal National's employment law changes. While a leader alone doesn't have the power to set policy, that was always going to be an easy win.
He also promised to implement the living wage (of $18.40) for Government workers.
Robertson dared to raise the spectre of the "man ban" - one of the blunders that irked party members and sealed poor Shearer's fate. Robertson's post 2014 caucus will be split 50/50 between men and women. Cunliffe was wrong-footed by Robertson's proposals and later had to outline his own to media after the event.
Robertson delivered a performance that thoroughly dispelled the idea he is not left enough to lead the party. "Let's win back New Zealand" he cried - winning round one of the Labour roadshow.
- Fairfax Media
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