OPINION: Labour's election year congress started with a whimper - as if the party was struggling to "keep the hope alive".
All the talk of an enthusiastic campaign team, voter strategies and strong support on the ground looked for all the world like the upbeat preparations of a school first XI about to take on Brazil.
But it ended with a bang as leader David Cunliffe's speech to a packed Michael Fowler Centre - Labour optimistically claiming more than 1000 supporters - was cheered to the rafters, especially for his promise to fund another 2000 teachers.
It remains to be seen if that mood can survive or will be doused by the cold reality of the next poll.
But it was a boost to morale that the party faithful were thirsty to swallow, with poll ratings becalmed below 30 per cent.
Campaign planning does look in good shape, and the opening speech on Saturday from newly-minted "egalitarian man", finance spokesman David Parker, went down well. He even got a standing ovation midstream that seemed to surprise no-one as much as him.
Labour's run of education announcements also hit the spot with party delegates - and likely the public.
Add together the extra teachers, smaller class sizes, a move to freeze out the loathed "voluntary donations", and subsidised portable personal computers for students and it adds up to an attractive package.
Mix in Education Minister Hekia Parata's tin-eared response and it can only get better.
Parata seems to have learnt nothing from the rapid backdown on bigger class sizes, after the 2012 Budget. Yesterday, she was still trying to win the argument calling it "a ‘back-to-the-future' idea of reducing class sizes.
Chris Hipkins' education package, ironically fashioned by Cunliffe's fiercest critic at the divisive 2012 conference, gave delegates some good news to take away from the weekend - beyond a new "Vote Positive" slogan and a glossy mini-manifesto.
- The Dominion Post