The Labour Party conference – as with most party conferences – was a bit like a brief visit to Lego world in the Lego Movie.
Conferences are designed to make the delegates and grass roots volunteers – and the politicians - think everything is absolutely awesome despite evidence to the contrary.
Not all delegates actually believe it, of course, but everybody plays along.
That includes the realistic Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, who declared at one point “whenever I’m in this place, I know the future is bright, and bold and beautiful.”
The contrary evidence landed with a thump just a few hours after the delegates stood for a rapturous ovation for Labour leader Jacinda Ardern’s speech.
It was in the form of Newshub Reid Research poll, putting Labour down in support once again.
It will have come as a sucker punch after a pretty positive conference.
Ardern’s announcement of increased childcare subsidies was a conference pleaser – but the aim was for it to be a family pleaser as well.
It is better politically than the cost of living payment was. It makes that look like the knee-jerk panicked response that it was to try to respond to calls for the Government to do more.
Ardern has tapped into what the Government already has up and running to do a bit more. It is not money going direct into families’ coffers – but the goal is to free up some of their own money, and give parents more space to work to earn more.
It will be criticised by those at one end for doing little to help those on benefits – and by others for not doing enough for other middle-income earners. But increased childcare support for more than 50 per cent of families is solid policy – and solid Labour policy.
The conference also provided an early showcase of how Ardern and Robertson will try to fight their way back up.
In her speech at the conference – and after months of assuring people inflation would soon ease – Ardern declared that 2023 would be a worse year than this year.
It is the groundwork for a campaign that will be pitched on trust and experience versus the unknown quantity of National and leader Christopher Luxon.
It was a call to pick the battle-hardened Ardern in troubled times over the untested political rookie.
Ardern’s push against Luxon’s experience is a clear sign that either Labour’s focus group work has identified that as Luxon’s Achilles’ heel – or that it is what Labour want people to start thinking about him.
Labour’s polling has shown people are still making up their minds about Luxon – and while that is the case, it has a window to try and make voters think twice about trusting him.
The conference also showed Ardern is not going to give up without a fight, and that she will be at the forefront of the experience line in the campaign – and that Grant Robertson will be used a lot more.
The trust ratings are high for Robertson in polling – critical in a cost-of-living crisis. There was a lot of pumping of Labour’s economic credentials.
Of course, the main purpose of a conference is to accentuate the positive and pretend the negative doesn’t exist.
There were regular verbal lashings of National and cheers every time anybody did it. And there were a lot of lists of the things Labour had done.
There were posters, a video of achievements, a brochure, and any number of speeches in which those measures were listed. Covid-19 was not on the brochure, nor in the video.
Alas, lists don’t win elections.
The party itself in good heart and good shape – years in government tends to help with that.
Outgoing President Claire Szabo noted that things were going well financially while also noting it wouldn’t necessarily last and the party needed to make hay while the sun shone. (The delegates were so convinced that they voted unanimously to increase their own levies).
Money is easier to get when you have the strings of power.
The conference also highlighted that other massive advantage of being in government: money is also easier to give. Governments can actually do something. Oppositions can only talk about it.
The big announcement of the conference was that childcare announcement – costing $189 million over four years. It is not massive – and as such also exhibits Robertson means it when he says he will be tightening the purse strings. However, It also leaves room to move on something that is bigger next year.
There was not a defeatist feeling at the conference – but there was an edge of nervousness.
Most of those delegates have been there for years and remember well what things were like before Ardern took them into Government.
They do not want to return there any time soon.
“We’ve got this,” Robertson said in his speech just minutes before also saying the election was shaping up to being a very close run thing - and an increasing number of polls showing he could not guarantee that Labour had this at all.