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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Reality check in Labour top job roadshow

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National takes opportunity to spread the fear factor among leadership campaigners.

Labour party leadership candidates L-R David Cunliffe, Shane Jones, and Grant Robertson. Photo / Paul Taylor
Labour party leadership candidates L-R David Cunliffe, Shane Jones, and Grant Robertson. Photo / Paul Taylor

With Big Brother presumably in mind, John Key last week likened Labour's leadership contest to the reality TV show, in which the contestants are fundamentally incompatible but are forced to live in close proximity to one another.

One of the contenders, Grant Robertson, hit back by suggesting Key was the perfect candidate for a slot on The Weakest Link. With Key overseas, Finance Minister Bill English yesterday sought to keep the heat on Labour with a version of Millionaire Hot Seat in which he portrayed the three Labour MPs fighting to be No 1 as spenders of prize money they had yet to accumulate.

National wants to keep voters focused on what, at times, looks less like a leadership election and more like an old-fashioned lolly scramble. Making this point during question time in Parliament required some dexterity on English's part. Ministers do not have responsibility for Opposition policies and therefore are not supposed to mention them.

So English took a circuitous route, saying there were alternative approaches to National's which involved "reckless spending promises with no credible plan to fund them".

"That is the approach we saw through the mid-2000s. But to give credit where it is due, the Labour leadership candidates are promising to spend ..."

At which point Speaker David Carter interrupted, saying English had no responsibility for that.

Labour's finance spokesman David Parker had a question for English, however. If Labour had left things in such a bad state in 2008 when National became the Government, how was English able to cut taxes?

English batted that one away easily enough by noting that the rise in GST had meant the income tax cuts had a neutral impact on the Government's books.

English was less comfortable with an earlier question from Parker suggesting the Finance Minister had been fiscally loose in handing Rio Tinto a $30 million subsidy to keep the Bluff aluminium smelter running.

Once the new leader is installed, Parker, as finance spokesman, may have to adopt a Biggest Loser style of slimming programme for Labour's body politic grown fat on the big-spending promises of the campaign for Labour's top job.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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