Cunliffe's message likely to resonate with middle NZ

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 10/10/2013
David Cunliffe
ROBERT KITCHIN/ FAIRFAX NZ
WORKER FOCUS: Labour leader David Cunliffe says he wants scrap National's "anti-worker" employment policies.

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OPINION: Suddenly the next election is looking like far from a foregone conclusion after years of National's ascendancy in the polls.

Labour leader David Cunliffe yesterday managed to serve up something that has been lacking from the party's narrative since the Clark years - a big picture vision to wrap around the grab-bag of policies and key messages that the party has been wheeling out for the last couple of years. More importantly he managed to deliver it with the conviction and sure-footedness that his predecessor David Shearer lacked.

That was not the only difference. Shearer launched his leadership with a speech to Wellington's select Wellesley Club. Cunliffe, who cracked that the Labour he led would be "red, not pale blue", chose the Council of Trade Unions as the audience for his first major public speech as leader.

On its own the Cunliffe vision may not be particularly bold or revolutionary - boiled down to its nuts and bolts, it promises an economy built on sustainable growth and smart jobs, but he has succeeded in bundling Labour's policies around unemployment, low wages, and crowded housing into that broader story around the economy.

It went down a treat with the union audience. Much of it will even resonate with middle New Zealand, but notes like the living wage for public servants will jar among low-paid workers who won't receive the same largesse, and remind voters of Labour's ill-fated promises on the 2011 campaign trail.

But Cunliffe turned up yesterday with two messages to deliver; the one to the union faithful was that help was on the way with a living wage, paid parental leave and union-friendly laws once Labour was in power. The other, once he was outside the room, was that there were still strings attached, and any promises would have to meet the test of being fiscally responsible first.

It may be a case of different messages for different audiences but if the purpose of yesterday's speech was to remobilise the all-important union movement and its foot soldiers behind Labour, it looks to have succeeded.

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- Fairfax Media

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