John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Energised the new buzzword

Labour leader David Cunliffe speaks in front of his new shadow cabinet line-up. Photo / Getty Images
Labour leader David Cunliffe speaks in front of his new shadow cabinet line-up. Photo / Getty Images

The Labour Party's annual conference was a case of veering from the seemingly ridiculous to the truly sublime.

Only Labour would devote almost the entire Saturday morning session to debating, among a host of things, whether access to the internet is a right or whether it is acceptable to use the word "household".

The 500-plus delegates were like pigs rolling in muck, however. There is nothing Labour conferences like more than putting forward endless amendments and passing countless motions regardless of whether they will have any impact.

The finalising of the wording of the party's new "policy platform" - which sets out the party's values, vision and priorities and which, crucially, is binding on the party's MPs - provided an orgy of such opportunity.

The upshot is Labour now knows what it stands for, even if the public is still really none the wiser.

It remains to be seen whether the platform becomes a strait-jacket imposed on the caucus by the wider party membership. Or whether it becomes unenforceable because of compromises in coalition talks.

The underlying purpose is to avoid a repeat of the the parliamentary wing of the party being captured in the fashion it was by Sir Roger Douglas in the 1980s and which left the party rank-and-file powerless to stop him implementing his radical economic and social agenda.

Some senior party figures are concerned the pendulum has already swung too far in the other direction under David Cunliffe's leadership and that he risks alienating the middle-ground voters he will need to attract to win next year's election.

Cunliffe insists his first task as leader is to engage with Labour's "base". He told TVNZ's Q+A that party members needed to be confident the leadership would remain true to Labour values and deliver policies accordingly if those supporters were expected to "run the race of their lives" in election year.

On that measure, Cunliffe cannot be faulted. Neither could his conference speech - a tour de force in terms of tone, content and delivery.

The buzzword of the conference was "energised", as in Labour being so. If delegates were not energised by the leader's address, they will never be.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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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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