Vernon’s puff

Hey, hey, hey; Vernon Small wrote a puff piece about Labour!

After the TPPA disaster last week where Andrew Little finally came out opposed to the agreed trade deal, Phil Goff went all blue and supported it, and David Shearer wavered worse than a bearer of dead fish — Vernon Small played nice. Not that he is incapable of that, it is always wrong-footing when a gargoyle smiles and winks, but it’s what he was being nice about.

Labour has released its first new policy under the Little leadership, and promised the first three years of tertiary study and apprenticeships free. Well, free for first-time students. And incrementally, so it’ll all be in place by the middle of next decade. A tilt to students and the youth in general, it worked for Helen Clark in 2005 with interest free student loans. But this announcement does not have the same crackle and fizz. It comes more than a year out from the next election which gives plenty of time for National to reshape its message and policies to compensate. But Vernon gives it a thumbs up, aw, thanks Vern.

I have an alternative analysis which Vernon Small missed. I don’t think this is about students at all. Labour is trying to draw attention back to one of its strengths, in education and young people the Labour Party tends to do quite well, so does National when it pilfers their ideas. The policy is a flagship example of the pragmatism Labour has been missing, and what Helen Clark won power with. No more Cunliffian great red pledges, this education policy is boring, doable and it won’t piss away the government’s revenue. And it will help young people — over time.

Andrew Little will be looking at this policy and how it is received very carefully. If reception is positive he has the cover to use it as a template for further policies without the more radical membership using it as a rope to throttle him. Instead he uses the same rope to bind them to his programme. Vernon Small has an interest in the policy having a favourable treatment, as long as it helps Labour get back to the centre as a credible alternative government. The media is conservative. If there is to be a change of government it cannot mean a big change in the direction of the country. Big swings foster polarisation and discontent The zealots champion their party, the oppositionists find more to oppose, and the net effect is more conversation and more knowledge about public affairs in this country.

Fewer people then rely on the press for information. That is very destabilising for the people Vernon Small works for, and therefore a situation to be avoided. So then, the question is whether a centre-left Labour government is any better than a centre-right National-led one. I believe that it is because even when progress is slow and pragmatic it is still for the right people, in this case the youth. If we can’t swallow the bitter hard-left pill, we might as well try the sweeter centre-left one.

Welcome back to the contest Labour.

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