Jacinda Ardern's pledge of "relentless positivity" will strike a note with business.

The last thing businesses want - after three terms of relative stability under the John Key/Bill English-led Government - is a female incarnation of so-called "Angry Andy" on steroids.

It may suit the Greens to have Metiria Turei ramp up their poll ratings by reminding left-wing activists there is more to the party than Vanity Fair-style cover shots and signing a mutual cease-and-desist memorandum with Labour.

But confidence is a fickle beast.


While there are major social issues in our two-tier economy, it is important the party which may well provide our next prime minister doesn't crush confidence by signalling a bitter campaign against those who have demonstrated resilience or have turned to immigration to fill gaps in their growing businesses during what have been a testing few years.

Ardern made an impressive debut as she took the reins from Andrew Little yesterday. She was crowned Labour's new leader in what was effectively a bloodless coup (leaks of internal party polling having provoked Little into some honest soul-searching over the effectiveness of his own leadership). But coup over. Now comes the gamble.

There are signs the party is more galvanised by the leadership switch than its opponents believe.

A fundraising mailer from Ardern arrived in my personal email box before 5pm yesterday. But new policy is also essential.

The new leader has announced she will take 72 hours out to reassess Labour's campaign strategy. This is clearly code for doing considerably more than simply airbrushing Little from the campaign.

There are suggestions that one potential vote winner would be to immediately move to make tertiary education free in a short timeframe - not just progressively like Labour's current policy which promises three years of free tertiary education for all New Zealanders in their lifetime.

Already NZ First has pledged to wipe student loans for new students who stay and work in New Zealand for five years.

Any move would be costly.


The Productivity Commission has recommended charging interest on new student loans as part of a proposed overhaul of the tertiary education sector. But the major parties do not want to go there.

Political parties that preach self-interest for the big end of town (remember "trickle down") frequently exhibit a blind spot when it comes to others seeking the same privilege.

At the 2005 election, Prime Minister Helen Clark steam-rollered opposition from her finance minister and announced student loans would be interest-free. Clark was in a tight race against National's Don Brash and needed to pull the proverbial out of the hat. It worked.

In my household - where political debate has ranged across the spectrum - a post-election conversation with some university students went like this: So who did you vote for? The almost universal answer was Labour. Why? Self-interest, they said. They weren't too concerned about the potential funding blowout, or that interest rates might act as a curb on the overall amount of debt they were prepared to take on.

New Zealand is now at another turning point when it comes to tertiary education and its funding. There is some support for a more radical approach which involves a greater focus on vocational training - not simply universities.

It is the right time for a rethink.