Trevor Mallard might not be so silly after all. At times, resurrecting the moa looks the easier option than breathing life into Labour's chances of being on the winning side on election night in September.

Such a moment of despair came last Friday - right on the eve of the Labour Party congress - after David Cunliffe apologised for being a man.

The political impact of this confession is difficult to judge. But Labour surely has far more urgent priorities than shoring up the feminist vote in inner city electorates like Auckland Central or Wellington Central.

It had been one of the intentions of Labour's strategists to use the two-day congress to project Cunliffe as an authentic figure who will listen and then do the right thing.


What the delegates got instead was authentic Cunliffe, whose barnstorming speech to the gathering yesterday was Cunliffe at his supremely self-confident best just as his mis-man-agement was utterly inexplicable.

The delegates went home happy.

Labour is now starting to show signs it will be no pushover come September 20. Cunliffe may speak the language of the left, but his actions are indicative more of a shift rightwards to capture more of the vital vote-heavy centre ground.

In the days leading into and during the congress, Labour released a swag of new policy on the schooling system, including announcements covering 2000 more teachers to cut class sizes, a school rebuilding programme, laptops for most pupils and a subsidy to schools to cut back on their demands for large "voluntary" donations from parents to meet operating costs.

The latter item carries a special significance. Labour is putting a stake in the ground against what it argues is National's slow but sure privatisation of the state education system. Labour's rejection of such donations may well strike a chord with parents wondering why National continues to hint at tax cuts while they are being hit with a bill to part pay for their child's supposedly free education.

Labour is also endeavouring to turn the tables on National on economic management.

As the party acknowledges the economic upturn, Labour is urging voters to ask themselves whether they are really benefiting from the recovery in any material way.

With the unveiling of its election slogan , "Vote positive", and a mini-manifesto, Labour is starting to live up to the warning issued last week by Steven Joyce, National's campaign manager, that the major opposition party would eventually get its act together. What Labour needs now is self-discipline from the top down. That means no more moas and no more man-nerisms.

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