Housing was the best issue the Labour opposition ever stumbled upon.
As house prices shot up in Auckland and other centres, the National government seemed almost cartoonishly unconcerned. There was no crisis. Kiwis could go on Trade Me and find plenty of affordable houses. A house making more money than most workers in a year – tax-free – was basically fine.
Against this, one of Labour’s most competent opposition MPs was armed with a very memorable plan: KiwiBuild.
KiwiBuild’s key strength was the specificity of its ambition. Labour was not going to build “more” affordables homes “at some point” – it was going to build 100,000 new homes in 10 years.
This was not a minor policy. This was at the heart of their election campaign. They repeated it time and time again – 100,000 affordable homes in 10 years.
At almost a year in they are at 8% of their one year target and 0.08% of their ten year target.
They have also realised that the cooling housing market – thanks in part to some of their other measures – has taken the housing issue off the boil somewhat, giving them a bit of room for this breather and “reset” that will involve completely de-emphasising KiwiBuild, putting it in the same league as any other piece of housing policy.
But to think they will get away without some level of punishment would be a mistake. House prices might have slowed their rise or even fallen somewhat but they remain well out of reach for many young people. With no real changes to tax settings or planning laws looking possible this term this is not just one promise broken – it’s a betrayal of the very foundation Labour built its election campaign on.
Housing-conscious voters probably aren’t going to head over to National, who still have the baggage from last term stuck to them. But Labour can expect a whole lot more hostility, of distrust in their promises. Its best issue has gone from go-to to embarrassment. It’s hard to come back from that.
Voters will hopefully be very wary about trusting anything in Labour’s 2020 manifesto, after such a betrayal of their 2017 pledge.