Claire Trevett 's Opinion

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Labour 'moves on' with some help from National

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Jacinda Ardern. Photo / APN
Jacinda Ardern. Photo / APN

When former Prime Minister Helen Clark issued the edict that she had "moved on" from a scandal afflicting her party or Government, it was a brave person who tried to put the brakes on.

"Moving on" to the Clark Government was more than a hollow verb. It was an entire philosophy, a state of being, the Eleventh Commandment.

After Clark deemed she had "moved on", nobody dared mention to the media the incident that had sparked the moving-on in the first place.

Journalists were left chirping futilely as the subject of the need to move on, or anyone else remotely associated with it, scuttled off into the distance.

The Labour of today set about invoking the same state of being this week in the wake of Shane Jones' decision to up sticks.

On Saturday, Labour MP Jacinda Ardern had opined that the Jones departure just went to show that a week was indeed a long time in politics and there were many more weeks to go through until the election.

"That shows anything can happen! John Key could go!" she told the Herald.

Her rather optimistic take did not escape Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's notice, and she was quick to tweet, "And I thought they didn't have a campaign strategy."

Then things kicked into action, and it went quite well once Jones took a vow of silence after a final television interview on Sunday.

Labour kicked off its Moving On musical by planning a hard-line announcement on legal highs, featuring leader David Cunliffe in Mangere on Monday. Then to show Labour's serious side, there was to be the less-populist monetary policy announcement on the Tuesday.

The big legal highs announcement was scuttled after the Government got wind of it and gazumped them by releasing Peter Dunne to announce he already had the same plan and legal highs would be gone by lunchtime on May 9.

All Labour could do was squabble over who came up with the idea first and whether the Government had pushed its announcement forward purely to take the wind out of Labour's sails, something Dunne confirmed by tweeting that his plans for a sleepy Sunday had been ruined, writing, "And it was supposed to be a quiet trip to Hamilton today!".

Regardless of the gazumping, there was no mention of Jones in the headlines the next day.

The greatest success came the following day with Labour's monetary policy announcement. Monetary policy is not usually recognised as a real attention-grabbing area of the policy platform when it comes to the ordinary voter. But finance spokesman David Parker was on a mission to change that, as well as trying to prove he could foot it with Jones by talking in a way that resonated with Jones' smoko-room audience. He took the precaution of sexing up his announcement by promising Labour was ready to unveil "one big new tool" for the Reserve Bank to play with.

Parker is not usually prone to innuendo, but it did the job of getting attention. There ensued much smirking and headlines such as the NBR's "Parker Wants Big Tool". Once that big tool was revealed, it also became clear that "big tool" was indeed far more smoko-room-friendly lingo than the technical term for it, which was "variable savings rate".

Parker continued his crusade to make monetary policy comprehensible to the smoko room after announcing that his plan was to use KiwiSaver as a device for the Reserve Bank to control inflation. On the Paul Henry Show, he was asked why no other country had done the same if it was such an effective mechanism. His answer was to depict it as a grand nationalistic gesture.

He pointed to other New Zealand world-first moments, such as women getting the vote and the nuclear ban. His big tool was apparently yet another example of New Zealand leading the world and on April 29, 2114, there would be great celebrations and bunting to celebrate its centenary.

Surprisingly, National did not put up a serious effort to gazump Labour over that announcement. It could easily have tried to. The Budget is only a fortnight away and it will have a plethora of announcements, large and small, ready to deploy. Instead, it took the alternative approach of hoping Labour's announcement would drown out its own. So it slipped out the announcement National would give $500 million to the Defence Force to pimp its rides over the next four years.

That announcement would normally have resulted in the Opposition crowing on two levels: first by claiming it was an admission that the funding freeze had been to the detriment of the armed forces, and second by comparing the $500 million dedicated to the Defence Force with the comparatively paltry sum being spent on child poverty.

National also helped Labour with its moving on on another front. For years, National has been poking fun at Labour for recruiting candidates from the ranks of its own ministerial advisers and the unions.

By comparison, National's candidates were supposedly recruited from the real world. What a treat for Labour to be able to turn those tables with the news that two of National's new candidates were not only both former ministerial advisers but had tasted the "real world" as lobbyists for tobacco companies.

This gave Labour handy ammunition to hurl back "big tobacco" whenever the topic of its "gaggle of gays and self-serving unionists" popped up and to defend its attempts at recruiting from the state broadcasters of Maori TV and TVNZ as almost benign.

- NZ Herald

Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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