Shortly before 2pm today, Labour will announce which of the four contenders for the leadership — Andrew Little, Nanaia Mahuta, David Parker or Grant Robertson — has won the complicated party-wide ballot. Political correspondent John Armstrong spells out the priorities facing the new leader

1. Speak softly, but carry a big stick

It is a truism that New Zealand voters hanker for tough leaders - until they eventually tire of them. The new Labour leader is going to have to be one tough cookie. His or her first priority is to end the latent civil war between the parliamentary wing and factions on the left of the wider party.

This will require banging heads together. Labour cannot "reconnect" with voters until the party convinces them it is once more a truly unified political force. Unity is paramount. Unity is the pre-condition for everything else to happen.

None of the contenders for the leadership has enough mana, charisma, charm or chutzpah to make Labour electable without first dealing with the rot within. They are all quietly spoken.

They are not fire and brimstone merchants. But whoever wins can compensate for the absence of other attributes by being seen to be tough - and cultivating such an image as the hallmark of a new Labour era.


The first step is to make it crystal clear that henceforth a tonne of bricks will come down on anyone who undermines unity. The message has to be simple: learn to like the new regime - or leave.

2. The 'vision' thing

Labour needs to capture the political agenda. But what it really needs to do is capture the public's imagination. The new leader should schedule a "vision" speech early in the new year. It does not need to be radical. It does need to strike a rapport.

3. Shift Labour back to the centre

At risk of sounding like a cracked record, the great bulk of voters consider themselves to be centrist. Moreover, they are centrist with a conservative tinge. Witness John Key's popularity. If Labour wants to remain the dominant party on the centre-left, it must talk to these voters - not at them. Labour must talk aspiration - not envy. The class war is long over. Voters are not interested in modern-day battlefield re-enactments of the left's greatest triumphs. They now see the spending of public money as placing obligations on those who receive it. They want to see tangible results which help them and their families to do better in a dog-eat-dog world.

4. Stop trying to sell the unsaleable

Erase the introduction of a capital gains tax from the party's manifesto forthwith. The more you try to sugarcoat this tax, the sourer the political taste for taxpayers. It is the political equivalent of Ebola - but more lethal.

5. Crack the whip in caucus

Too many Labour MPs have spent the past six years in Opposition doing a good job of merging into the parliamentary wallpaper. Shane Jones' campaign against supermarket chain Countdown was a much-needed lesson on how an Opposition party can lift its game. A third-term National Government should offer similar rich pickings. But to lift Labour's game requires many more of its MPs to lift theirs.