Labour pitches vision and ability to lead past mounting challenges

5:29 am on 7 November 2022
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Ardern is asking voters to take the government's track record into account as election year approaches. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Power Play - Labour's efforts to stress it can offer stability during tough times as it made a pitch for a third term this weekend were not subtle.

It held its annual party conference in South Auckland, with leader Jacinda Ardern listing off the unprecedented challenges in its time of office, selectively pointing out its successes, and asking the public to look at its track record as election year approaches.

Posters listing policies Labour has introduced during its five years in government were plastered on the event venue's walls.

If you missed them, booklets containing the same information were handed out. If you weren't passed one, a five-minute Labour government highlight reel was played at the start of the event and shared on social media. Notably, there was no mention of Covid-19.

The gathering of party faithful and the chance for a political morale boost came amid intense pressure over multiple crises, with the cost of living a clear stand-out.

The message of the weekend; Labour can still deliver despite the unparalleled challenges facing New Zealand and the world.

The offering for now - extended access to childcare, a policy targeting families facing the financial squeeze, but one that won't take effect until April next year. One, however that hit the right note with crowd, when delivered by Ardern during her keynote address.

But there were also warnings 2023 will likely be even tougher, woven with assurances Labour is tested and can be relied upon to get New Zealand through the aftermath, rather than the opposition National Party.

With measures like the fuel subsidy and half-price public transport for those without a community services card due to expire in a few months' time, the public will want to know what else the Labour government is going to do to make their lives easier.

Ardern didn't give any firm answers this weekend but told RNZ the government would "continue assessing what more could and should be done to support our families".

She did not rule out a further extension of the fuel subsidy and half price public transport, regardless, expect Labour to roll out all the stops in its election year budget.

Ardern is already starting to make the case, asking voters to take the government's track record into account. "Who can provide the security and certainty New Zealanders need to get through, with a plan, with confidence and with optimism?" she put to members.

Labour politicians gather at the party's annual conference in South Auckland at the weekend.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour politicians at the party's conference in South Auckland. Photo: RNZ/Katie Scorcher

Her criticism of National was mainly limited to its tax cut plan, but Grant Robertson as loyal deputy directed the attacks at Christopher Luxon, or "Liz Luxon"; "out-Trussing" the latest British prime ministerial casualty, he riffed.

Unfavourable comparisons, too, between his party and National.

"Our Labour team who have shepherded New Zealand through tough times, who have the compassion, the experience and the focus on the future. Or the National Party - inexperienced, out of touch and stuck in the past."

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Robertson denied he was talking National down due to concern about losing in 2023. He did, however, admit it would be tight.

"The 2023 election is going to be like a normal MMP election. The blocs are close."

Labour's backbenchers, however, will be nervous. After the party's landslide win in 2020, it's mega majority caucus is set to shrink next year.

Public polling this year has consistently shown waning support for Labour.

Last night's Newshub Reid Research poll showed it had plummeted to just over 32 percent - Labour's lowest result since Ardern became leader in 2017. On those numbers, Labour would lose more than 20 MPs.

The Labour leadership emphasized the party's achievements and added more promises as it prepares to battle for a third term in government.

The Labour leadership emphasized the party's achievements and added more promises as it prepares to battle for a third term in government. Photo: RNZ/Katie Scorcher

Backbenchers RNZ spoke to at the conference put on a brave face and said they weren't worried about losing their jobs.

MP Ingrid Leary admitted Labour had "some work to do to get over the line" but said her colleagues weren't looking at the election "in an individual way".

Senior MPs also voiced optimism and told RNZ a lot could change between now and election day.

Many pointed to polling in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, which showed National had the numbers to win the 2020 election.

The picture though is so different now: the popularity of Labour's key asset in Jacinda Ardern is waning, its time in government has been fraught with challenges that have alienated sectors of the community and caused economic damage yet to be fully realised.

Labour does have successes, but the trick will be convincing voters it has the vision and ability to deliver New Zealand through the uncertainty and turbulence of the coming years.