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

Claire Trevett: Labour leader Andrew Little tries out new f-word

Labour leader Andrew Little's big speech at the party's election Congress was brought to you by the letter F.

If last year was all about the Kiwi Dream, this time it was f-words.

There were the perennial favourites: fair, future, "families" (usually the 'Kiwi' genus), and fields (as in level playing fields).

But the main word was "fresh".

Little used it time after time - a bid to paint Labour as fresh and new compared with fusty old National.

"Fresh" was the focus of the entire menu at the conference.

The outgoing or already departed tough old meat was respectfully acknowledged (Annette King, Phil Goff, Davids Cunliffe and Shearer) but the menu was otherwise very much stacked with the tender new lambs.

Much was made of Jacinda Ardern's appeal to younger voters (although Ardern insisted she was also a hit in old folks' homes).

The new candidates were feted - though there was a bit of a "don't mention the war" approach over Willie Jackson, whose shoulder-tapping by Little had already caused much controversy.

The poor soul even managed to be a distraction when he was trying desperately hard to be meek and mild, courtesy of National's Alfred Ngaro's ill-advised apparent threat to cut Jackson off if Jackson bagged National.

There was another F at play at the conference: funds.

There was no mention of Labour's 2015 reduced-sugar policy at the congress and the reason why soon became clear.

The fundraising stalls run by the various electorates were bristling with the evil white grains, presented variously in peanut brittle, chocolate bars and preserves.

Sugar sells.

Party president Nigel Haworth began his speech with an infomercial pitch for Raj's Chutney, the Otaki electorate's homemade chutney.

"The Otaki Women's branch Raj's Chutney is the perfect accompaniment to any curry you take after door knocking," he intoned.

Haworth's job is to make money. He has set himself to this with such vigour, they even have a fundraising slogan: "no wallet left behind".

He quipped to delegates that his mates were afraid to go round for dinner lest they get charged $60 at the end.

Haworth likes to dream big, and so he told delegates Labour should be aiming for 40 per cent in the polls. By way of motivation, he pointed out that increasing Labour's vote was the only way to ensure NZ First did not decide the election outcome.

To get there takes more than money - it will take Little persuading the voters he is a prime minister in waiting.

The big policy of Little's speech was one Labour had long signalled - getting rid of the tax breaks for property investors.

It was not exactly the "fresh" approach or innovative thinking Little was claiming for Labour - the party has long chewed over the policy. But it was not intended to be a big bang.

The aim of Congress was to persuade delegates (and the public) that Labour had a chance of winning - and Little had a chance of being Prime Minister.

The party has taken some heart from polling it claims shows voters are sceptical about whether Bill English is PM material - saying "he's no John Key".

That may well be, but nor is Andrew Little and relying on your main opponent not being John Key is hardly a powerful strategy unless you are John Key.

Little wound up his speech with a flurry of another F-word: fight. He declared he was ready to take the fight to National.

If he does not win it, it will be another F-word on Labour's lips - a four-letter one.

- NZ Herald

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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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