Claire Trevett: Mixed messages in Little's pre-Budget speech

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Labour Party leader Andrew Little. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour Party leader Andrew Little. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Here's a tip for Labour.

If your leader is about to deliver a speech on the plight of the homeless compared to the "wealthy few", don't kick it off with a tale about Bluff oysters.

Labour's whip Chris Hipkins introduced Andrew Little for his pre-Budget speech by talking about the Bluff Oyster Festival Hipkins attended at the weekend.

Hipkins revealed he had bought three dozen oysters but left them in his hotel fridge.

A minute later Little took to the stage to deliver a triumphant piece of mixed messages.

On the face of it the speech was aimed at "middle New Zealand".

The centrepiece was a very convoluted piece of research about the proportion of economic growth returned to workers. Labour had concluded New Zealanders were getting $50 less a week than they would have been.

It was effectively meaningless beyond showing what clever clogs they were to have worked out such a thing. It also opened Little to questioning on how Labour would get that back into the pockets of those workers.

Prime Minister John Key delivered Labour a present by publicly talking about the prospect of $3 billion in tax cuts after 2017. Little rightly took that opportunity to talk about how that could be better spent. But when he was asked if those very tax cuts were one way to return some of the $50 Labour itself had identified people of being deprived of, he faltered and started talking about public services instead.

It seems Little has finally learned the group of people he needs to be talking to are middle New Zealand, but there are precious few signs he has discovered how to talk to them.

It was the same speech he has delivered before and that each of his three predecessors have also delivered, with its riff on the "Kiwi dream" and the politics of wealth.

It played well among the left. The loudest applause was his proclamation a government he led would not tolerate poverty.

Much of it focused on the "few at the top" or the homeless living in cars.

"Middle New Zealand" might pity the homeless and either begrudge or aspire to be one of the few at the top. But the issues of those groups are not those of middle New Zealand.

The series of promises Little did set out were so grandiose as to be unbelievable. It amounted to promising to solve poverty, build "affordable" houses for everyone, feed every hungry child, banishing cold damp homes forever, building masses of infrastructure and pumping funding into the health and education systems.

The only one he missed was turning water into wine. That would at least have given the "middle New Zealand" hotel worker who finds Hipkins' oysters something to wash them down with.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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