Highlighting Labour's new policy directions, Ardern keeps the Greens' troubles at arm's length

By Julia Wiener

Jacinda Ardern announced Friday that the Labour Party’s new campaign slogan, “Let’s do this”, would replace their previous “A fresh approach”, the tagline for the campaign under Andrew Little.

Alongside this announcement, Ardern also pointed to the areas of policy on which Labour would be focusing for the next seven weeks: housing, education, key infrastructure and the environment. She also said the party will be making additional announcements with a Maori focus.

With Labour’s housing and education manifestos already released, the remaining question is what sort of infrastructural, environmental and Maori-focused policies Ardern will unveil. While she can only make tweaks and additions to the hefty education and housing policies, the door is wide open for changes to environmental and transport policy, constrained only by the party’s own Budget Responsibility Rules.

Environmental protection, transport infrastructure and Maori issues are all also central to the Greens’ election campaign. With the struggle to differentiate itself from the Greens evident in Labour’s campaign so far, it is little surprise that Labour under Ardern will be moving to take back ground from the party to whom many of their voters have been flocking.

The fact that Ardern has chosen these focal points lends credence to the idea that Labour is struggling to win back the ground lost to the Greens over the past few months, as the latter party took left-of-centre stage with Metiria Turei’s admission of benefit fraud. It could also simply indicate that these issues are the ones New Zealanders care about most, and that both parties have successfully placed their fingers on the nation’s pulse.

Facing a barrage of questions over Metiria Turei’s statement that she would not seek a position in cabinet following her admission of welfare fraud earlier in the campaign, Ardern stressed that the upcoming seven weeks would be focused on Labour’s policies, not the Greens’. Nevertheless, the overlap in focus – moving from policies like Little’s union-driven workplace relations policy to a set of issues arguably more important to a 2017 voting public – is telling for Labour’s sudden increase in financial and volunteer support.

Clearly the cause of the increase in support is not the promise of new policies, but in the identity of the messenger. Anecdotal evidence from Kelvin Davis in Friday’s press conference hinted at what may become substantiated as new polling data rolls out: the ‘Jacinda effect’ motivating people who are otherwise disengaged from politics to vote Labour. If the party also manages to win over enough lukewarm National voters, this effect might bring the added support necessary to rescue the party from the disastrous 24% support which led Andrew Little to resign.

Depending on whether Ardern’s new environmental and infrastructural policies tilt Labour further to the left, or bring them towards the centre, Labour will be looking to win back voters it lost to the Greens and take much-needed votes from the National voter base. In order to stop votes simply sloshing about between the Greens, Labour and NZ First bloc, this is what they must do; Ardern needs to convert ‘soft’ National supporters if she is to have a shot at forming a government with any mandate after September 23. With the option of tax changes left on the table and the announcement of light rail to Auckland Airport expected on Sunday, there is little doubt that voters will be paying more attention to Labour’s policy announcements from here on out.