Cunliffe carries a huge weight

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 12:34 22/09/2013
David Cunliffe
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
BIG JOB AHEAD: Labour leader David Cunliffe.

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OPINION: As a fledgling MP, in February 2000, David Cunliffe was waiting to deliver his maiden speech to Parliament. Speaker Jonathan Hunt noticed the clocking was ticking towards dinner break and sought permission from MPs for the session to run late so Cunliffe and fellow newbie John Tamihere could speak before the House adjourned.

Just like his first parliamentary address, many of the Labour faithful believe Cunliffe's ascension to leadership is overdue. The weight of expectation is enormous, especially from supporters he whipped up into almost fanatical devotion with his hard-left promises on the recent hustings.

So, how will he deliver at the same time as bringing lost centre voters back to the fold? David Cunliffe simply can't out-Key John Key. He's a talented orator, but, unguarded is prone to slip into grandiose proclamations, which come across as  either forced or insincere. Ultra-bright he might be, but unlike Key, Cunliffe is never going to be the politician voters want to crack open a beer with.

He seems to recognise that, unlike Key, he alone can't carry the Labour party. Tomorrow he'll put forward not only a refreshed front-bench team. Regional development and jobs, alongside monetary policy will be key themes.

Instead of going after Key, some are encouraging him to weaken the Government by picking off weaker, poor performing National ministers such as Craig Foss, Chris Tremain and Nathan Guy.

Cunliffe has had five years to work on his game plan. Watching from the sidelines, figuring out where Phil Goff and David Shearer went wrong. He has crunched the numbers: Between 2008 and 2011 the party lost roughly 30 per cent of their vote.

To win back the centre, he intends to go hard on National over inequality. Cunliffe appreciates the middle classes are shocked by growing numbers of children in poverty; stories of schoolchildren growing without breakfast, or turning up shoeless, to class.

Cunliffe seems to be leaning towards current centre-Left thinking on ''pre-distribution''. This favours macro-economic policies which engineer the markets to favour long-term investment over quick profits based on trader's instincts and knowledge.  Pre-distribution favours the taxation of wealth over income.

The agenda insists employment rights are extended to all - not just the unionised. On the campaign trial, Cunliffe pledged Part 6A, a protection to ''vulnerable'' contract workers, typically cleaners, caterers and hospital porters, would be extended to all. This week he told Fairfax: ''Labour unions may not always be the best strategy. We must ensure that all workers ... have certain basic protections.''

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Pre-distribution places value on the role of the state to reduce inequality, while ensuring access to good education, health and life's essentials do not hinge on income. There is a heavy emphasis on early education to put a stop to generational inequality.

Crucially, post the global financial crisis, voters still expect austerity.  The nostrum discourages heavy reliance on welfare. It is about re-setting the principles of how a left-wing Government will operate when money is tight.

Pre-distribution is an agenda that British Labour leader Ed Miliband is flirting with. Critics believe he is being too cautious.

The downsides are it is a deeply un-sexy thing to sell. Cunliffe is planning a ''major unveiling'' of his 2014 election strategy at the Christchurch conference in November. Expect it to contain many of the elements of pre-distribution.

- Stuff

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