Labour's sudden willingness to play the race card and blame a glut of well-heeled Chinese investors for sky-rocketing house prices in the Auckland property market is a further indication of Andrew Little's willingness to trade political correctness for political effectiveness.

At the same time, what kind of Opposition party would look such a gift-horse in the mouth as leaked details of real estate transactions - especially given the Auckland housing crisis is currently the hottest political issue and one where Labour has held the upper hand.

Given the Government's reluctance to compile such data, Labour could argue it was acting in the public interest.

Not that such a rationale would wash with those criticising Labour for playing the race card and accusing the party of shonky analysis of limited data which Labour claims shows that Chinese people accounted for nearly 40 per cent of transactions over a three-month period earlier this year.

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Even Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy - who has not always been as quick off the mark as she was yesterday - waded into the argument, saying Labour's actions were "disappointing" and Chinese New Zealanders deserved better.

Labour may have looked like it was very much on the back foot with media coverage focused on what the party's critics were saying, rather than what Labour had uncovered.

But the Labour hierarchy probably considers the more criticism the merrier. It keeps the story running.

Labour's target audience in this instance is the silent majority who will believe Labour has come close enough to confirming what until now had been anecdote.

Labour will gain more than it might lose in terms of voter backing.

There may be some angst among its more wealthy supporters who back the party for social justice reasons. But John Key may be the one who has to worry about voter defections - alongside Winston Peters, another beneficiary of Labour losing touch with its more conservative-minded supporters.

Those voters will welcome the more hard-nosed pragmatism that Little is bringing to the running of the party.

The biggest danger for Labour is that some of its activists recruited to the party by Helen Clark, who assiduously courted the ethnic vote, could express dissatisfaction with the turn of events.

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But then Little is going to have to tread on a few toes to resuscitate the wider party.

Labour has to get people thinking and talking about the party. Last weekend's real estate expose is just what the doctor ordered.

But Labour has to set the political agenda in similar fashion in other areas of economic activity or social policy - and much more frequently than has been the case to date.

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