This week Cunliffe had his own ‘‘show me the money’’ moment.
Labour’s $500 million dollar “Best Start” package should have put National on the spot over its own support for new parents.
But what unfolded instead was a shambles over which parents would qualify for the $60 a week baby bonus. That succeeded only in giving National a platform from which to erode confidence both in the package and Labour’s fiscal credibility.
It is tempting to think the policy fell victim to Labour’s desire to dress it up as something other than its 2011 campaign promise to extend the $60-a-week in work tax credit to beneficiaries.
That policy was hugely popular within Labour’s activist base but deeply unpopular among the so-called ‘‘battlers’’ Labour spent most of its 2011 campaign talking about.
Broadening that policy by extending it to households earning up to $150,000 a year makes it more politically palatable among the middle-income nesters. But by years two and three of the baby bonus, the rules around eligibility are squarely pitched at beneficiary households.
The extension to paid parental leave helps sweeten that pill among working couples. But Cunliffe’s omission of the fact they would not also receive the baby bonus for the first six months while they were receiving paid parental leave was a mistake.
In Key’s words, it looked tricky.
And their advertisement implied that you would get both.
Architect of the policy was Labour’s welfare spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern, but she was not on hand later in the week when Cunliffe fumbled again over detail of the policy.
Finance spokesman David Parker has been strangely absent from the debate, meanwhile.
Looking back at the days of Helen Clark and Michael Cullen, it is hard not to imagine the former finance minister stepping in to monster his opponents on the fiscal detail when necessary.
I think David Parker was too busy trying to stop David Clark banning Facebook!
Labour’s front bench will be demanding a post mortem on what went wrong.
Cunliffe may have put the cart before the horse in announcing a big ticket package before opening the books on Labour’s alternative budget.
In an election which will hinge on economic credibility, Labour has not yet found a way to neutralise National’s narrative that it is the more prudent fiscal manager.
Labour’s problem is that it has opposed pretty much every single decision of fiscal restraint taken in the last five years.