Cunliffe's freeze puts Labour's hopes on ice

David Cunliffe.
David Cunliffe.
It could have all gone horribly wrong for John Key during the leaders' debate in Christchurch last Tuesday evening.

Had David Cunliffe known the answer to Mr Key's attempt to catch him out on the detail of Labour's proposed capital gains tax, then Mr Key would have looked a bit silly - especially as the answer he had was wrong.

But Mr Cunliffe did not know the answer to Mr Key's question.

He froze.

In an instant it was obvious the Labour leader was floundering.

On such moments election campaigns can turn.

This was one those moments.

Mr Key took a punt. But it was thought to be a pretty safe one.

National believes Mr Cunliffe does not bother to get on top of detail.

For him, a capital gains tax is a means to satisfy the Labour left.

Mr Key's question more than did the trick.

It shifted the debate about the tax from arguments about its benefits in terms of fairness and shifting money into productive investments to questions about detail and its impact on middle New Zealand.

As one sage observes of Labour's crusade for such a tax: Everyone likes the idea, but no-one wants to pay it.

National had a field day for the next 48 hours, highlighting anomalies and contradictions in Labour's proposal.

Mr Cunliffe managed to prolong the firestorm by getting it wrong again, this time on how the tax would apply to a home inherited from dead parents.

Labour should have foreseen National's onslaught. It should have devised a strategy in readiness to counter it.

But Labour may have been lulled into a false sense of security.

Labour's intention to implement such a tax was part of its 2011 manifesto.

But National did not aim its heavy artillery at the tax at that election.

Labour may also have thought it had already won the argument by virtue of a broad consensus in the financial sector that such a tax is long overdue and - as a result - National is the one which is out of touch and the pressure has been on Mr Key and Bill English to come into line.

Beyond issuing a 10-page backgrounder which added little that was not already in the 2011 manifesto, there was no briefing, press conference or attempt by Labour to spin its way out of this disaster.

Already struggling to make any impact, Mr Cunliffe's campaign has taken a potentially fatal knock.

With two opinion polls yesterday showing Labour marooned at about 25% and National registering at 50% or more, the election campaign may effectively be over.

The only question now is whether growing backing for Colin Craig's Conservative Party will translate into actual votes on September 20 and in sufficient numbers to clear the 5% threshold - and thus allow Mr Craig to come to the negotiating table with enough seats for National not to have to entertain a deal with Winston Peters.

While it is too late to gift Mr Craig an electorate seat, it is likely Mr Key will make some carefully worded statement in the final week of the campaign giving licence for potential National voters to tick Conservative.

The possibility of Labour being in a position to form a government now looks to be virtually non-existent.

With two weeks still go, Labour's campaign is The March of the Living Dead.

John Armstrong is The New Zealand Herald political correspondent.

Cunliffe Labouring

Cunliffe's arrogance at wanting to become Labour leader has been Labour's downfall, there's better in the party. He has shown he's a poor leader with little grasp on his own policies and doesn't have the respect of half the caucus. The best thing for Labour supporters is to vote for another party and get rid of Cunliffe. Hopefully then they'll end up with a strong leader.


Simply give party vote to the Conservatives. Sensible policies. We need them in parliament.

Media arrogance trap

Armstrong has fallen deep into the media arrogance trap where he is now believing what he is writing even though it is purely opinion and not facts. Don't let the facts get in the road of a good story, John. 

Two things

Two things,

1.  What have I missed? Have we had the elections already?  Labour relinquished two seats to National?  I must have been asleep!

2.  Speaking of policy, we haven't heard any from National yet other than more of the same.  That means the exchange rate will continue to be high, we will still have all our eggs in one basket, poverty is acceptable, government services will continue to be underfunded.  Oh yes, the will we or won't we tax cuts announced by Key but unknown to English.

I put it to you that if it was Cunliffe that announced something that Parker didn't know about the media would have pilloried both of them sky high. 


The problem for Cunliffe and Labour is that the various mistakes are cumulative. Some are serious like relinquishing two seats to National today (by selecting poor candidates). Others are damaging to all-important perception such as not having policy properly prepared (voters want to know what they are voting for). Now if Cunliffe even makes a small error it just adds to the incredulousness of the situation and is added to the list.

What's the beef?

Ok, so Key and his flunkies got together and pored over the pages and pages of detail of Labour's capital gains tax proposal looking for something that might help Key put Cunliffe on the spot. 

It was a no-win situation for Cunliffe and a no risk gambit for Key.  Cunliffe chose to kick for touch and Key chose to quote some figures that were right off the mark.  Cunliffe paid for what he did but there is little focus on Key getting the numbers wrong.

The worrying thing about it is, a week has gone by and the media are still full of it.  I note in this edition of the ODT two headlines which could be interpreted as dissing Cunliffe.

We know for sure that at the head of every major news outlet is a coterie of businessmen who surely by dint of their income and position would be natural allies of National and anti-capital gains tax.

Australia has a capital gains tax and it was pushed through even though the business community including the media fought tooth and nail against it. If newpapers and  television news outlets are losing consumers year on year why would their bean-counters be surprised?


David Cunliffe's freeze

Yes, David Cunliffe's should had had know that answer in regard to Trust house sales, but it's not really important. The fact that Labour is introducing capital gains tax is a good move. Also those people who setup those trusts on their home are really only getting out of paying for their old age keep in a home - they want the Government to pay for it for them.

If the people of NZ decide to vote for National based on a trick question by John Key to David Cunliffe, then they are real fools. What they should be thinking hard about is what NZ is earning overseas. The truth of that matter is that it's falling fast and the debt is rising real fast. On the day Labour left office the total debt was $10 billion and today it is $68 billion. National has been borrowing $27 million every day since the have been in office.

Dairy overseas earnings are dropping fast already - they have dropped 40% - and timber earnings have dropped as well by 48%. These are our two largest overseas earners. The USA has now moved into dairy farming big time, 52,000 cows on one farm are milked every day in closed areas and all grain feed. The hay days for NZ dairy exports are over, and National does not have the ability to think outside the square. History shows that they have always cut down their bridges behind them.


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