Just got back from Levin where they had the first of 12 meetings for Labour members and affiliates to hear the leadership contenders and ask questions.
Media were invited to the speeches part, hence why I went along. They initially said I could not report on it, as they get to decide who is and is not media. But then a compromise was done where I could report on it from just outside the building. I was more than happy with the compromise, as it was in fact nicer in the sun than in a crowded room.
Labour had around 300 people there, which is pretty impressive for a meeting in Levin. They’ll be pretty happy with that.
Shane Jones was first up. He used a couple of his previous lines, including taking on the $50 million gorilla which went down well. The key thrust of his speech was that he is the only candidate who can reclaim or recover the territory Labour used to have, which National now has. He spoke on the need for more regional development and said that does involve mining and drilling (not those exact words though). Called himself the embodiment of both old and new NZ, and related his mixed heritage.
He finished with saying that the real enemy was apathy (I thought it was the gorilla!), and had a classic line about how he wants Labour to get over 40% so that it doesn’t need a Green urologist to lift them up!
A good speech from Shane, which played to his strengths. I would be surprised if he got a lot of votes though. A reasonable level of applause at times, and at the end.
Second up was David Cunliffe. He started a bit subdued, but this may have been deliberate to avoid going over the top like at his campaign launch. He spent most of the first half attacking the Government and saying that for 250,000 kids in poverty the Kiwi Dream is a nightmare. Lots of applause. He said the current kids may be the first generation to end up worse off than their parents and said Labour is the best hope for restoring the dreams.
He also borrowed from Helen, and called the Key Government corrosive. Then he showed he had done his homework by quoting regional unemployment stats and finally pledged to abolish the Kapiti Expressway if elected PM (not quite sure how that will help create local jobs!).
He also played to his strength by saying Labour managed economy well when last in Govt, and would do so again with him. said National focuses too much on welfare fraud and not enough on tax evasion, which was very popular. Tried to deal with the JAFA issue by saying he was born in the Waikato. He concluded by saying the red tide is rising and will take NZ forward. I almost expected them to start singing the international socialist song!
Overall a very good speech, that went down very well with the members there. One member tweeted that while he liked the speech, Cunliffe mainly repeated Labour policy and didn’t make the case for why he, not the others, should be leader.
Finally they/we heard from Grant Robertson. He started low key but got people warmed up with a joke about how John Key had said the leadership contest is a reality TV show. he pointed out reality TV shows are popular and that John Key has his own show, called You Are The Weakest Link – which of course they loved.
Grant obviously decided there is no way he was going to let Cunliffe be seen as the candidate of the left, so he pledged in quick order full employment, a living wage for all and a 50% female quota for caucus. They cheered and cheered.
The living wage commitment was specific – he will give a date by which every state agency must pay every employee at least a living wage (over $18 an hour) and also every contracted company to them must do the same. This is basically a 40% pay increase for every cleaner. By no coincidence, the room was full of Service and Food Worker members, many of whom are no doubt cleaners.
Grant also pledged to repeal National’s employment law changes, which again went down well. Then he had another line on how Steven Joyce thinks economic development is a night out at Sky City.
Grant’s use of humour to attack Key and Joyce is, for my money, an effective strategy. Just calling them evil uncaring people won’t convince anyone but the base. Humour used effectively though can undermine.
Then at the end Grant spoke on the need to win the next election at all costs, and how Labour needs to be unified to do that, and he is the person who can lead and unify the party.
I thought at the end of it, that Grant clearly was best on the day. Cunliffe was very good, but Robertson excelled. he got the mix of policy, rhetoric, humour and “why me” just right. Cunliffe did a great attack speech, but didn’t make the case so effectively for why it should be him.
The danger for Robertson is that if Cunliffe clearly outclassed him at the first debate, or two, then the uncommitted MPs and unions would swing behind Cunliffe as the likely victor. I think he did more than enough to keep the contest very finely balanced.
After the speeches, they went into committee for the Q+A. Amusingly they kept the doors open so one could hear everything said outside if you tried to listen to it (I didn’t).
Chatted to a few people afterwards, and the consensus seemed to be that Robertson performed the best. However 11 more meetings to go.
What really struck me was how far left Grant was prepared to go to head off Cunliffe. This is in fact quite good for National. If Grant wins, he is on record at pledging to effectively increase the minimum wage to over $18, and to have a gender quota for caucus, plus full employment. I love how he pledges 40% pay increases plus full employment! What will be interesting is if Cunliffe tries to match these pledges. He did unilaterally announce the scrapping of the Kapiti Expressway so by the end of their campaign, I hate to think what they will be promising – all motorways closed down, rail for all, jobs for all, and $29 an hour minimum wage!