Labour’s new leader David Cunliffe has a propensity for changing to suit his audience.
If it’s a matter of style it might not matter, but when it’s substance it does as John Armstrong points out:
To show he is still boss, Key rode into town this week with all guns blazing.
For the first time outside the parliamentary chamber, he had Cunliffe very much in his sights.
The Prime Minister claimed he had information that Labour’s leader had privately told SkyCity’s management that although Labour’s official line was that the pokies-for-convention-centre deal was shonky, Labour would not accede to the wishes of the Greens and rip up SkyCity’s contract with the Crown.
Facing his first real test as leader, Cunliffe vigorously denied the charge before deliberately ducking and fudging to such an extent that confused reporters drew completely different conclusions about where Labour stands on the matter.
This is not a tactic that Cunliffe can resort to using too often.
Being a different person to different people is one thing, saying different things which sends messages which are mixed or worse, contradictory, is another.
Key will keep up the pressure. He knows Cunliffe is in a very difficult position.
On the one hand, there are those in Labour who would seek to nobble SkyCity as a matter of principle.
Others take the view that an international convention centre means jobs, and Labour’s supporters in lower socio-economic areas would take a dim view of the party kiboshing the project.
Moreover Labour cannot afford to be seen to be ripping up contractual obligations, thereby destroying its credibility with international investors and the moderate voters Cunliffe must win back from National to gain power.
Here lies Key’s wider strategy. Labour needs to show it can work with the Greens to convince people that a centre-left government is a workable proposition.
At the same time, Labour needs to create some distance between itself and the Greens to avoid accusations it is in their pocket.
Winning back votes to the left of Labour will do nothing to grow the left’s vote.
They’ve got to win votes from the centre and even right to grow the how left vote and that will be very difficult when moderates in the centre are at least as averse to the far left as they are to the far right.
Labour’s Green problem is its biggest potential coalition partner is also its biggest rival for far left votes and biggest liability in attracting votes from its right.