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Labour – The Heads Down Approach Continues

Events over the last week prove either that the Labour Party hire extremely poor PR staff or that the party is committed to the heads down approach to this election campaign. It seems it would certainly be the later as no press secretary on the planet would plan to launch three major policy initiatives at a time when the biggest political event in New Zealand history is set to arrive on our shores and a civil war is set to break out on our doorstep.

That is unless that was the plan, of course. Labour are extending their lead in the polls and a quiet campaign to date seems to have been just the ticket. And what better opportunity to minimise the attacks on three key controversial policy platforms than to release them over the last week – when the eyes of the country are fixed on rather more pressing matters?

The launch of Labour’s industrial relations, social welfare and native forest policies this week makes it patently obvious that Labour planned to minimise the coverage of these policies, and therefore the critique of them, as much as possible. And seeing the bollocking all of these policies received from the government, it was probably not a bad strategy. But it was certainly a cynical strategy and one which hardly fills anybody with confidence in the party and their conviction in their policy.

However one can understand why today’s announcement was timed the way it was. The announcement has seen a senior front bench MP resign from his portfolio and West Coast MP Damien O’Connor openly criticising his own party policy. It has shown a significant split in the Labour caucus and Helen Clark, knowing that both members would publicly dissent at the launch of the policy, timed the announcement in order to minimise media scrutiny of the inevitable crack in her party which has finally shown itself in public.

One can only speculate on how many others in the Labour caucus sympathise with Sutton and O’Connor but were successfully contained by the party hierarchy. Michael Cullen’s comments today that the decision was a difficult one for the party to make would suggest that this number is not insignificant.

Yet the announcement of a cessation of all native logging was a decision that Labour had no choice but to make. The party had been coming under intense pressure from the environmental lobby to clarify its position on the issue and, while it took a while, Labour realised that with the vast majority of New Zealanders opposing native logging they would just have to take the flack when it came. And it has certainly come. See the Parliament wire for reaction to the decision.

To support a continuation of native logging could have proved politically fatal for Labour with the massive urban opposition to the logging and so, again, the party of the middle found itself firmly between a rock and a hard place. Either way they would have received a hammering and so the decision was delayed. Until today of all days.

It looks likely that Labour are going to be able to form a new government, on current polling, but again this is hardly because of their promotion of alternative policies – as the events of this week confirm. Instead they are hoping that people have had enough and will vote for change. National are clearly losing votes and Labour are certainly gaining them, although not through any significant initiatives of their own.

Will we see Labour’s long awaited tertiary education policy tomorrow? Cynical I know, but who can be blamed for that?


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