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

Labour pushes Kiwi dream theme

MPs personalising their messages to voters as they attempt to tap into underlying concerns for future.
The sudden bout of sharing is part of the party's push of its new "Kiwi dream" theme, introduced by leader Andrew Little in his speech to Labour's conference. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The sudden bout of sharing is part of the party's push of its new "Kiwi dream" theme, introduced by leader Andrew Little in his speech to Labour's conference. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Labour MPs have started peppering their speeches with their own life experiences - from David Cunliffe's modern-day rental woes to Annette King's childhood living next door to a state house.

"I can remember, as a child, living in Milton St, Murchison, where my parents were able to build a home with a State Advances loan. Next door to us was a state house, next door to that was a home that somebody owned, and next door to that was a state house, but there was no distinction amongst the children or the families who lived there. We lived side by side and our houses looked the same. There was no distinction between us. We played together - we were the same."
-Annette King

The sudden bout of sharing is part of the party's push of its new "Kiwi dream" theme, introduced by leader Andrew Little in his speech to Labour's conference last year and cemented at a retreat of Labour MPs last month.

It is part of the party's attempt to build a more cohesive message and momentum in the polls heading into 2017.

The first polls of the year have not been promising - Labour was up one point in the One News-Colmar Brunton to 32 and still well behind National which was solid on 47 per cent.

But Labour insiders hope the theme will get voters to look at Labour again. It will be Labour's core message until next year and underpin a broad swathe of policies the party releases in areas such as housing and education.

It is aimed at tapping into voters who are not unhappy with their current life or with National but have an underlying concern about the future and whether their children will be able to enjoy the same lifestyle as them.

Those to do so include Mr Cunliffe, who has separated from his wife and spoke of the uncertainty of renting after his landlord decided to sell his rental. Photo / Greg Bowker
Those to do so include Mr Cunliffe, who has separated from his wife and spoke of the uncertainty of renting after his landlord decided to sell his rental. Photo / Greg Bowker

The Northland byelection gave Labour some hope such a tactic could successfully budge middle New Zealand away from National. NZ First leader Winston Peters won a previously safe National seat by feeding a feeling of disgruntlement that Northlanders were missing out.

MPs have been told to try to personalise the message as much as possible - so a number of Labour MPs used their own backgrounds and experiences when speaking in Parliament since it returned this month.

Those to do so include Mr Cunliffe, who has separated from his wife and spoke of the uncertainty of renting after his landlord decided to sell his rental.

"I used to own a house. Now I rent a house. I dug the garden. I planted vegetables. I got it looking great. And then the owner said 'Hey, it's looking so good I think I'll auction it,' and I was packing up, and down the road before I could say Jack Robinson. I have not got kids in the local school who were disrupted by that, but plenty of families have. There is nothing more important to the Kiwi dream than home ownership."
- David Cunliffe

University of Auckland political marketing expert Jennifer Lees-Marshment said she had noticed the focus on the new theme, including on MPs' social media.

"I think if they do well, it could be extremely effective because it's not just saying everything is terrible and National is awful, it's simply saying 'there's something not quite right' and also suggesting what they want to move to, the Kiwi dream."

Dr Lees-Marshment said Labour did have to be careful people did not see the "Kiwi dream" promise as unrealistic. "They have to have policies that are achievable and they have to be seen as being able to deliver that dream. But it is a really interesting start."

Labour had to ensure it was selling a modern Kiwi dream rather than simply conjuring up nostalgia for the old quarter-acre section, she said.

It is not a new catchphrase for the party. Former leader David Shearer spoke of the dream of home ownership at Labour's conference in 2012, and Mr Cunliffe referred to his wish to "reclaim the Kiwi dream" at the 2013 conference. But there is more focus on it now as a political brand.

"I am a state house boy ... I got to live the Kiwi dream of having the state help my parents, who could not afford to buy their own house when I was young, and of having the support of Housing New Zealand to make sure that our family - my brothers and sisters - could live in a good house that was warm and dry ... I got to be able to go to university and get qualifications so that at one stage of life I ended up in this place, so that I can stand up and protect the things that were important to me and my family."
-Kris Faafoi

Mr Little's speech to the Labour Party conference in November was heavy on his own personal story and he followed it up with his "backing the Kiwi dream" State of the Nation speech in January and released the first significant policy tied to the theme - three years' tertiary education without having to pay fees.

The "dream" was described by Mr Little as "a home of your own, a stable income and time with family and friends".

Deputy leader Annette King referred to it in Parliament, saying Labour had decided the message they would be sending at the start of the year was one of hope.

She referred it back to Norman Kirk's saying that all people really need is a place to live, something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.

- NZ Herald

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