Andrea Vance: Dreams are free – but the electorate knows ambitious policies aren't

The election was a nightmare for Labour. Now, they’re hoping Andrew Little’s vision of the Kiwi dream will rebuild their hopes for the next election.

The party leader says his priority is to sort out internal divisions in the Labour Party. Source: Q+A

By 2017, Labour will have been out in the political wildness for almost a decade.

Little’s had a sluggish start to his leadership – reflected in polls that hover stubbornly around the 30 per cent mark.

Andrea Vance ONE Voice Source: 1 NEWS

A year on from his election – and after a sustained period of reflection and healing – this conference was Little’s starting pistol.

He exploded out of the blocks with a 40 minute pitch.

The delivery was old-school tub-thumping. In fact he was so fired-up, a thrust of his hands sent a glass of water tumbling to the stage.

The party still has a long way back to electoral success - ONE News political reporter Andrea Vance

National’s campaign supremo Steven Joyce slammed it for being heavy on rhetoric and light on policy. But that was entirely the point.

The spotlight was entirely on Andrew Little. Who he is, what he believes in, and what to expect from his leadership.

Andrew Little says the Labour conference will give a springboard to success for the party. Source: Breakfast

Old and unpopular policies (capital gains tax, NZ Power and lifting the pension age) were swept from the manifesto over the weekend.

It was symbolic and a gesture of humility – distancing Little from past disasters and demonstrating the party is (finally) listening to voters.

There was no blood on the floor – in past years scrapping flagship policy would have risked all-out civil war.

The Labour Party leader made a passionate speech at the party’s conference in Palmerston North today. Source: 1 NEWS

Little got those necessary negotiations with delegates out of the way on Friday – before the media pack arrived to sniff out internal dissent.

Likewise, Little’s first duty was to announce the grounds on which Labour will oppose the TPP.

The deal is a touch-paper for the left and Little is walking a tightrope between the pro-free trade and the anti-corporate elements in his party.

His position is confused – and he’s probably going to spend the next week defending it.

But it was short-term clever – because he appeased both sides at least for the duration the conference.

The atmosphere at the Palmerston North get-together was markedly different from in previous years.

Perhaps it was just the warm spring sunshine, but the delegates just seemed happier – and a lot less hostile to assembled journalists.

Of course, the media were shut out of policy discussion – but there was no ill-disciplined leaking of discord. There were no factions, secreted into corners and muttering dark threats.

Little’s asking for patience ... Dreams are free – but the electorate knows ambitious policies aren’t - Andrea Vance

The organisation – and the optics - were slick but with the homespun touches (raffles, button badges and union collection buckets) that set them apart from National.

But it wasn’t perfect. Annette King’s new policy to remove sugar from processed food threatens to be tricky to implement.

Nevertheless, it taps into a growing health concern for parents. And it makes National look weak in the face of pressure from food manufacturers.

It was unnecessary to shoe-horn a reheated public contracts policy into Little’s speech. Too minor to merit much coverage, it just gave his opponents a free hit.

The party still has a long way back to electoral success. There were flashes of policy direction – particularly in health and education.

Little has indicated he will pare back his campaign messages and keep it simple – straight out of National’s playbook.

The past year clearly hasn’t been wasted. Little’s team have been learning from past mistakes. But one factor remains a constant – for Labour to win they must persuade the electorate they won’t be profligate.

Little’s asking for patience over spending plans and won’t say if he’ll raise taxes. Dreams are free – but the electorate knows ambitious policies aren’t.