Labour leader David Cunliffe has set himself a benchmark for the next election making it clear his goal is to overtake National in the polls rather than simply rely on a strong combined Labour-Greens result to edge National out.
Labour MPs are in a two-day caucus retreat in Papakura working on their campaign strategy. Mr Cunliffe would give few hints as to its plans but said he was focussing on being the largest party in Parliament after the 2014 election to put it in a strong position to form the next Government. It is the first time Mr Cunliffe has been specific about overtaking National rather than talking about the joint Labour-Greens poll lift.
That will be a big ask and requires closing a more than 10 point gap between Labour and National in the polls. That is something it has not come near for the past five years.
His comment indicates Labour will be gunning to try to get some of its vote back from the Greens as well as targeting soft National voters.
Mr Cunliffe said he believed Labour was already making traction after its policy announcement for payments for newborn children, saying the Prime Minister had only started talking about a referendum on the flag to detract attention from the policy. However, he voiced support for the idea of a change himself and would not rule out holding a referendum on it in 2017 if he was Prime Minister. "I've got an open mind."
Mr Cunliffe also said he and deputy leader David Parker will meet with each of the MPs individually over the next fortnight and were already in discussions with some about their political futures within Labour. "There are one or two conversations with one or two colleagues that go to their long-term planning, but that is a private matter between them and the leadership team." He would not say if they had approached him or he had shoulder tapped them. "We've got processes in place where we are setting goals for all our colleagues."
List MP and former Race Relations Commissioner Rajen Prasad is understood to be one of those under some pressure to go to make way for fresh blood. Mr Prasad is believed to have already met with Mr Cunliffe and Mr Parker.
A slew of National MPs have announced they will retire at the next election, but among Labour's caucus only Manukau East MP Ross Robertson has so far made the same decision. So far the party has selected 10 electorate candidates out of an expected 71 electorates, mostly in safe National seats where the boundary changes are expected to have minimal impact. It is due to make its selection for Mr Robertson's safe Labour Manukau East seat at the end of this month. It is understood about four people have put their names forward so far, but no sitting MPs. Those contesting it are expected to include former Labour candidate and unionist Jerome Mika who lost out on the Manurewa selection to Louisa Wall.