Claire Trevett 's Opinion

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

Claire Trevett: After baby-kissing theatrics comes flag waving

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Labour leader David Cunliffe. Photo / APN
Labour leader David Cunliffe. Photo / APN

It is only the first week of the parliamentary year and the features common to election campaigns are already on full boil.

The first is kissing babies. Labour leader David Cunliffe managed the masterstroke of kissing 59,000 of the blighters simultaneously by promising them free nappies for a year with a $60 a week payment. More importantly, he had kissed all of their (voting) parents by throwing cash at them. Or so they thought.

The truth eventually came out in the details. Cunliffe's assertion in his speech that 59,000 families with newborn babies "will all receive a Best Start investment of $60 per week for the first year of their child's life" actually transpired to mean that 33,000 of those families would only get it for six months once their paid parental leave ended.

The second feature is the lolly scramble. To some extent, both National and Labour have taken a lesson from Mary Poppins, realising a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

However, the "spoonful" is relative, depending who is measuring. National cast their level over Labour's spoonful for newborn babies and declared it was actually an entire vat of sugar and would give the Government accounts diabetes.

Labour cast its eye at National's spoonful aimed at teachers and principals and announced it would be shovelling its own spoonful in the same direction in due course with a slightly different sugar on it. So far National is sticking to the attack that served it so well in 2011 by breaking into choruses of Hey Big Spender any time Labour opens it's mouth.

However, National's message is somewhat muddied by simultaneously gloating about its success in driving the economic recovery and the return to gold in the Government coffers. It is further muddied by the fact that for all its pursed lips, it has thrown a few amuse-bouches of its own at the voters to give them a foretaste of the degustation meal that awaits them, if only they keep National in power to ensure that recovery continues unimpeded.

Then there are the theatrics.

Labour revealed their new tactic for dealing with Key's theatrics in Parliament was the silent treatment. Come the first big debate of the year, the Labour MPs filed in like Carmelite nuns. They sat there, deathly silent, engaging in what one MP later said was simply "a spontaneous lack of reaction". When it was pointed out Shane Jones never suffered from spontaneous lacks of reaction, the reply was that Labour was simply trying to ensure its spontaneity was better co-ordinated.

It was effective, putting Key in the position of a man trying to play tennis with nobody on the other side of the net. Unfortunately, the effort of staying silent clearly sapped their energy and so they remained muted for their own leader's speech in reply - and Cunliffe perhaps took the vow a bit too far by losing his voice half way through.

Another subset of the theatrics is the random metaphor. Key likened Labour's claim to be saving money by ditching two policies as "like me going to the shops this afternoon and saying 'I like that suit over there, oh by the way, I've saved myself 1500 dollars by not buying it".

Cunliffe took it to even more inexplicable heights, saying National's plans to introduce its own paid parental leave scheme was "like John Key saying to Barack Obama: 'no, you can have your driver back. I'm going to drive with the putter'."

The hypothetical people used to illustrate the benefits of policies are also already popping up at a great enough rate to double New Zealand's population by the time the election is over.

Key spoke about the woes of a young couple buying the bakery in Hawera who would be hit by a capital gains tax under Labour. He didn't specify whether this couple were trying to stage a takeover of Tun Bakery or Anderson Pies. The applicability of the capital gains tax was debatable, given Labour's policy has an exemption for some small business owners.

Unfortunately, because of the spontaneous lack of reaction, the Carmelite nuns could not point that out.

The Green Party had a mother walking her child to school in the rain and having a cup of tea at one of its new community hubs.

And Cunliffe has his one in five children running around with only one pair of shoes on, although sleuthing by factbuster Graeme Edgeler subsequently revealed it was one in 20 children.

As it is every election, it is a Survivor-like game of outlast, out-fundraise and, most critically, outflank. After two days of headline stories about Labour's baby policy, Key yesterday pulled out his old faithful friend, the New Zealand flag. He has now all but promised a referendum on changing the flag for the 2014 election.

Ta-da - within an hour, the energies of politically enthusiastic people on all sides had forgotten all about babies and teachers and were instead going hell for leather about a piece of fabric on the end of a pole.

- NZ Herald

Claire Trevett

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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