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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Goff on target by aiming debate at the kiwi kitchen table

Water Cooler Key vs Kitchen Table Goff

As the bus I caught meandered its way through Auckland traffic deep into the heartland of New Lynn, I wandered what Phil needed to do gain traction so that the MMP math would start to favour the left and not the right. Outside the window, signs of the recession are apparent everywhere. Empty shops with depressing 'For lease' signs stand sullen and stark and low level commercial activity seems apparent in shop after shop empty of customers.

I remember the bite of the last recession, it's not as bad as that, but if things don't start turning soon in the economy, it isn't hard to imagine things getting worse quickly.

I'm a little lost trying to find the New Lynn community centre (the bus driver had kindly pointed vaguely in the distance ahead of him) when I walk into David Cunliffe. "You look like a man who know's where he's going", I call out, he looked surprised, perhaps he doesn't hear that often? We walk together towards the Community Centre, with his entourage of Wellington suits buzzing behind us. He says he likes the War on News, I tell him I liked how ridiculous the Roy Morgan Poll was. Taking a poll in the middle of January during the holidays on landlines attracted the frightened shut in community, I was surprised the result wasn't 180% to National. He laughs.

I ask David if it pissed him off that if it had been Labour who had declared a 'turbo charge' of the economy with a GST tax increase that ended up causing a $2billion dollar deficit the mainstream media would be declaring a revolution, yet because it's smile and wave they are silent. He rolls his eyes in agreement and mutters.

We part at the door as he recommends where to sit (behind him) to get the best seat. I like Cunliffe, I've seen him speak many times and I'm always impressed, he is the new Cullen minus the anger.

I look around the room. It's packed with a massive range of diversity, if Labour has a strength it is that it is genuinely representative of NZ as a whole, one note of caution was the age group. There were some young faces, but not enough, I think a lot of young people grew up under Helen so that the rebellious thing was voting for Key, and as such young folk LOVE John Key they way they love an American Idol judge. Labour are going to have to do some work on that front.

Bump into Shane Jones, I've met him twice before at two different charity debates, we chat about the Maori Party. He smells blood in the water, he has nice things to say about Hone. David Shearer and I swap times as to when he's picking me up for Phil's BBQ on Friday. I chat briefly with Jacinda Ardern about a series of debates I'm arranging on Citizen A between her and Nikki Kaye that will start in March. There's a lot riding on Auckland Central and Nikki Kaye is bloody sharp, she's the brightest new star in National's caucus and beating her will be difficult.

The Labour MP's are all a bit excited about Phil's speech, they know he has to pull a rabbit out of the hat or they're all in opposition for another 3 years. It's the type of nervous excitement you have when waiting on test results from the doctor.

I'm sitting next to Phil Twyford, he's telling me Rodney made a mess of these new Maori appointments onto the Auckland Council committees, I ask him if Rodney knew what he was signing off, Phil's laughing too hard to answer.If the right wings hope is that the voters of Epsom dislike Maori more than they dislike bullies and so will re-elect Rodney, then they're going to faint when the full ramifications of 34 none elected Maori get appointed to every Super City committee.

Cunliffe welcomes Phil to the stage and the cheer is heartfelt. Labour have had little in real policy to differentiate themselves from National. Since the Party conference when Phil signalled a move to the left, there hasn't been a hell of a lot voters could hang their hat on, he knows he has to appeal middle NZ consumer politics, but in a recession as deep as this one they ain't thinking about plasma TV's, they are thinking about just paying the bills.

Thankfully for Labour, Phil delivers. Rather than discuss what his ideas were, Breakfast this morning on TVNZ spent the entire show talking about whether or not Phil had dyed his hair colour, I won't speculate as I wouldn't want to sound as fucking stupid as Breakfast on TVNZ, but his ideas showed that David Parker has been hard at work.

Phil targets average NZers who are sitting around the kitchen table each week trying to work out the bills, the Government he proposes sees social justice as fairness, not social engineering. He notes the 700 millionaires in NZ who have received $1000 each week since the tax cuts and points out that $120 million per week of the money we are borrowing is actually for tax cuts the lions share of which are given to the richest NZers. For those at that kitchen table trying to balance the rising cost of living, such numbers are a kick in the teeth.

15% off all fresh fruit and vegetables may be laughed at by the Wellington beltway set, but those who are looking at their budget while trying to provide healthy meals for their children will love it as an example of the sort of state intervention they want.

Goff's real trump card is his first $5000 tax free for all NZers. This impacts most on those who are earning the least and will be funded by a new top tax bracket that will be in the high 6 figure area so that professions not considered top tax bracket fodder don't fall foul of it.

Beyond the kitchen table to issues that have a wider philosophical appeal, no rise in GST (something Key can't mimic) and no sale of state assets.

Anti-avoidance tax loopholes were his next target. Easy to say, bloody difficult to enforce, but the first on the block will be property speculators, their ability to write anything off look dim if Labour get elected. 1 in 5 property owners have a rental property, Labour are gambling they won't vote for Labour anyway, so the days of speculative property investment look numbered.

Goff ended on the promise of a green tech future. He talked about more Research & Development and that NZ simply doesn't do enough. He's right. If we want to forge ahead there has to be a massive re-investment into Research & Development, not more tax cuts for the rich, (personally I've always thought a massive focus and increase on funding science in the classrooms would be a smart choice for the future). I didn't get a chance to ask him where the money for more Research & Development would come from, but I will try and press him on Friday for it.

Phil left the stage and the cheer was even more heartfelt, he has brought the goods and the Labour core are a mix of relief and excitement. He's done the business and staked out the Kiwi kitchen table as the political battle ground, Key may have the water cooler, but the water cooler doesn't win elections.

If the economy continues to splutter, Goff's ideas will start looking more and more pragmatic up against borrowing $120 million a week for tax cuts we can't afford to further feather the nests of those already well off.

National will be pondering if their game plan of slitting Rodney's throat and going all in for an outright majority with the possible assistance of the Maori Party is hubris or the beginning of a glorious new age of National Party dominance.

This is game on now, Labour have tailored their policy for the majority who aren't earning over $50 000 and whom are being pinched by the economy. In past elections the complaint has always been about the perception that both Labour and National were pepsi and coke, the same product in different packaging, this time Labour are presenting a true alternative to National with policy that aims to make balancing the budget for the majority who are struggling easier with the kind of State intervention NZers approve off.


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