Listening to Helen Clark on Checkpoint yesterday confirmed for me what others had been saying: Labour's energised around a clear and consistent policy agenda.
Clark's unrivalled as a political leader. Over nine years, she's built a policy framework that culminated in yesterday's announcement on student allowances. If you focus just on the economics, first fees were regulated, then the loan scheme amended to reduce debt and accelerate repayments, then interest was forgone and now finally reinstating universal allowances. Labour can now say the upfront cost of allowances is comparable to the costs of lending (as I've noted here and here this doesn't take into account the revenue-side).
The economics, however, is only part of the narrative. Each election Labour's refined and extended its investment in tertiary education. In the first term, the focus was on industry training. Here the bought considerable business good will by trebling their investment, allowing companies greater flexibility and lending political muscle to a scheme that had languished under National Ministers (not Lockwood and Birch however). Through the first two terms, Labour wrestled back some control of the system but progressively linking funding to outputs - this might've angered some such as Southern Institute of Technology but it means training is more closely aligned to labour market demand.
Throughout this time, Labour's weathered various storms. Maharey was frequently challenged by the Opposition through the transition as various providers went rogue - none more so that CPIT which rorted uncapped funding to grow low-cost and low-value training. But despite this, a consistent narrative was driving Labour, so much so that it forced the Opposition into line. Key's famous about turn on interest-free loans is the clearest evidence of its effectiveness.
Yesterday Mary Wilson charged Clark with being cynical. Clark easily rebutted this pointing out the consistency with which her government has acted over the decade. When English came on afterwards he had little room to move. Despite the predictability of Labour's announcement, National's never developed an alternative narrative (having abandoned it's pre-99 approach given its failure).
Labour's record on education, tertiary and other pathways, provides it with the strong narrative that National lacks. National would have dearly loved to have campaigned purely tax cuts but its package is not nearly strong enough. Having put so many eggs in this one basket, it's struggling to compete in the final stages of the election. Will Labour's resurgence be enough to recapture the votes it needs? I don't know. However, Clark's position as the premier politician of her time has never been clearer than it was yesterday.
2 days ago