The candidates for the Labour leadership are in an awkward position. They are campaigning for the votes of party and union members while aware that anything they say may be taken down and used in evidence against them. Commitments they make to a partisan electorate may be difficult to reconcile with a wider audience.

The election has become something of an auction with one candidate or another making an offer and the others seldom ruling it out. Whoever becomes Labour's leader, the party will not be obliged to go to the general election next year with a Pasifika TV station in its manifesto as well as the usual promises to repeal National's employment laws.

But the most interesting suggestion so far comes from Grant Robertson, endorsed by David Cunliffe, to raise the minimum pay for employees of the state and its contractors to $18.40 an hour. This is the "living wage" promoted by the union movement.

The living wage calculation is a useful guide to the labour market. As an authoritative measure of the minimum required for a reasonable living standard, it ought to be noted by small employers who take their cue from the statutory minimum, currently just $13.75 an hour. All the candidates would increase that rate, too. But it is one thing to promote a figure for wage bargaining, another to impose it by law. Unemployment would rise if industries could not absorb the extra cost.


Everyone agrees that New Zealand needs to lift its incomes overall, to match Australian rates if possible. But the Labour Party seems to think that this can be done at the stroke of its pen. Mr Robertson in particular, is talking as though an economy is simply a job-creation scheme and all that a government needs to do is make its priority "people".

He is surely insulting the intelligence of Labour Party audiences, most of whom appear to have been around a good deal longer than Mr Robertson and can remember when the economy was largely a job-creation scheme.

Mr Cunliffe sounds more capable of giving Labour a modern economic direction, though it is unfortunate that he has committed himself to restoring the top tax rate to the level set by the previous Labour Government. A matching increase in the trust rate would not entirely eliminate the damage that would do. Any increase in the top rate adds to the incentive for tax avoidance. It would also hand the Government a heaven-sent target at next year's election, but it obviously appeals to those whose votes Mr Cunliffe needs next week.

Mr Jones is the only candidate who is campaigning unabashedly beyond the membership. He believes he appeals to Labour's lost voters in the provinces and "smoko rooms" who could choose the next government if they bothered to vote. He may be right but his personal pull with the potential voters is not as obvious to the members.

The Labour caucus are the forgotten voters in this campaign.

They have rejected Mr Cunliffe once and might still prefer Mr Robertson. But they must be prepared to accept whoever the election delivers, along with whatever policies the winner is making on the hoof.

Mr Cunliffe would come with regional development projects, a forestry planting programme financed by carbon credits and some changes to Labour's plan to raise the superannuation age to 67.

Mr Robertson's baggage includes wood processing schemes, a summit conference and a monetary policy priority of employment.

Mr Jones wants to crack down on the supermarket duopoly, stop Australians buying houses here and scrap the northern motorway extension to Puhoi.

Some choice.