9 Nov 2015

Labour turns sights to 2017 election

5:50 am on 9 November 2015

Despite its miserable election result just over a year ago, the Labour Party spent very little time licking its wounds at its annual conference this weekend in Palmerston North.

Unpopular and complicated policies were ditched and members were given clear direction about what was expected as the party turned its sights to the 2017 election.

Labour Party president Nigel Haworth

Labour Party president Nigel Haworth Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

New president Nigel Haworth did not mince his words, telling members they had been acting like a loose federation which had made the party look amateur.

"For example we agree on a campaign leaflet centrally, but branches here and [Local Electorate Committees] there decide they don't agree with it, or they don't like the design, or Andrew isn't smiling enough and they refuse to distribute it.

"Or we have a billboard strategy in an election and some of us say 'nah we don't like that - we're going to use last time's boards', or 'we're going to make our own' and we put them up and then we wonder why we don't look like we've got a united message across the country."

Labour leader Andrew Little addresses delegates at the party conference in Palmerston North

Labour leader Andrew Little addresses delegates on Sunday. Photo: RNZ/ Jane Patterson

It was also Andrew Little's first outing as leader at a party conference.

Mr Little has brought stability to a caucus that has been through some turbulent times since Labour lost office in 2008.

He was clearly keen not only to ditch policies that have proved too hard to pitch to the electorate, but to pare down Labour's entire policy platform.

"We cannot, whether in a formal election campaign or even the months leading up to it, possibly campaign seriously on 140 policies. So we won't be doing that.

"It is easier and people who want to understand what our priorities are, what distinguishes us, what defines us, it's imperative that we chunk that down to meet that criteria - so it won't be more than half a dozen."

Policies on the scrap heap include the Capital Gains Tax, raising the age of superannuation eligibility and NZ Power - which would have introduced a single buyer of electricity.

Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson said the NZ Power policy was tricky to sell to voters.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Grant Robertson Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"When we put up a proposal that is complex, looks like it's quite bureaucratic, that causes us trouble so we've got to get this right.

"We didn't do well in the election last year and we have to take a look at the policies that were part of that and reassess them, so New Zealand Power is under review and we'll be back to the public with a new policy before the next election."

Mr Little's speech to the conference was well received and party members spoken to by RNZ were happy with the direction of their new leader.

Next up for will be a caucus reshuffle towards the end of the month. Expect to see Kelvin Davis, David Clark, and Jacinda Ardern moving up the ranks, along with Peeni Henare and Jenny Salesa.

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