After an extended period of mismanagement, Labour looks to have started to gets its act together. Months of whining about the Auditor-General and the Exclusive Brethren were sidelined to cameo roles only at the Party Conference.
After months of absence from any debate on policies, Helen Clark returned to centre stage with a potentially incredibly power vision of New Zealand being the first fully sustainable country on the planet.
Such a vision is potentially an election winner. It appeals to all that NZers hold dear, and reclaims a leadership role in an issue to date characterised by retreats and blunders. One could probably not come up with a better vision, if you spent a month with a dozen focus groups seeking for the political phrase that will engage voters.
And that is of course exactly what has happened. At this stage there are no policies or plans underway to fulfill this new vision of a sustainable NZ. It is merely lofty rhetoric invented by pollsters (God bless them) or focus group facilitators.
But for all that it is only rhetoric for now, it is potentially very powerful and election winning rhetoric. I would not under-estimate how central this may become to Labour’s re-election – but only if they can match rhetoric with substance.
The reality to date is that Labour backtracked on carbon tax, and our Kyoto commitments are in shambles with our rate of greenhouse gas growth faster than both Australia and the US.
No Right Turn points out that 49% of greenhouse gases come from the agricultural sector. The price to pay for being “fully sustainable” may be additional costs on agricultural products which will make us less competitive on the global market. That’s a big risk for an export dominated economy. Will Clark actually do anything beyond rhetoric?
And in fact already today we see the Government rushing in to defend kiwifruit exports against claims the cost of shipping them is bad for the environment. Now I agree the concept of food miles is a stupid one pushed by trade protectionist lobbies, which looks at only one part of the production chain. But make no mistake in some areas there will be a trade off between agricultural exports and a “fully sustainable New Zealand” if the Government is serious about this being more than rhetoric.
So it is a two edged sword for the Government. They have what for many may be an exciting and election winning vision. The fear and uncertainty about global warming could scare many into believing that to note vote for a “fully sustainable” (note that many people won’t even know what this means, only that it sounds good) New Zealand will be dangerous. But if Labour raises the vision and rhetoric and then fails to deliver anything of significance, they will end up being judged failures against their own words.
From all accounts the Labour Conference was very successful for the party. They managed to shift the debate from defending their past behaviours to policies for the future. They realised that non stop attacks on a christian group may be off-putting to many christian voters, and are now looking at the more sensible step of having a christian group within Labour.
And congratulations also to Tony Milne for being returned as Youth Vice-President, and Kate Sutton for a huge margin of victory in her election as Women Vice-President.