Andrew Little spoke in Dunedin last night so I went along to see whether he looked and sounded better live than in brief media coverage. Unfortunately, no, he was much the same, earnest enough but repeating a well worn speech. it was uninspiring and often downright boring.
The venue was chosen well, it was packed out, standing room only, a few hundred people turned out. A number were obviously party faithful, clapping far too often. Others were less demonstrative, perhaps observing like me.
A really weird thing at the start, something I have seen similar before but not as odd as this. Someone got up at the front and asked that if there were any young people seated could they please stand and let older people have a seat.
I was there early enough to get a seat and didn’t want to give it up (ok, I’m not young either). Maybe 30-odd young people left their seats and were clapped for doing that. A few oldies then took a seat. After a while some young people then took seats back, and some were left empty.
The evening introduction was done by one of the local MPs, Clare Curran (the other, David Clark, closed off).
He started off mucking around with a microphone and asking about sound levels – audio was to be a problem off and on through his speech. A basic thing that should have been sorted.
He started off his speech with sort of lectern thumping gusto without the thumping. He ended with a bit of gusto again. But in a lengthy in between he was often quiet, sometimes hard to here, and mostly very boring. That may sound harsh but that’s how it was. My thoughts kept drifting off elsewhere.
It didn’t help that I felt that I had heard most of it before. It seemed to be based largely on his Sunday ‘state of the nation’ speech. I wasn’t interested in his personal stories about biking and his past health problems.
But there was a lot of waffle without any maple syrup, bananas or ice cream, so it was dry and uninteresting.
Little gave a lot of examples of what needs fixing – the usual stuff, housing, the health system, education. But he gave scant idea on how “we’ve got to do better”. And less idea on how much all the increased spending would cost.
He spoke specifically about three policies.
One was Kiwibuild, 10,000 houses in ten years, I’ve heard it all before. Even on this he was uninspiring. He said that it could be done because it’s been done before, and then mentioned then 1930s. That’s a long time ago and much has changed, especially local bodies and their use of the RMA, and the lack of available land.
The second was a local carrot, one million dollars offered to Dunedin for setting up some computer gaming incentives. There’s a bit of programming going on here but it’s not going to employ a lot of people.
And the other was free tertiary education which he claimed would inject $200 million into the Dunedin economy each year. He seemed to claim this would be due to increased participation in tertiary education – that sounds like a very optimistic increase.
Someone suggested that it would be more appropriately called zero-fees rather then free education.
Otherwise there was a lot of dissing the government and Bill English and saying they could do better. Uninspiringly.
There were two notable omissions from Little’s speech.
There was no Te Reo, no mention of Maori associations with Labour, no mention of Maori issues or the Treaty of Waitangi, which despite claims at Ratana seems to be a normal omission – see Maori 0f Little importance?
And there was no mention of the Greens, of the Memorandum of Understanding and of joint campaigning that Sunday’s joint speech with Metiria Turei was aimed at portraying.
Labour wants Maori and the Greens, needs them, but Little doesn’t even pay lip service to them. I don’t know if this is ignorance or arrogance.
Little says he is going to speak all around the country leading into the election on September 23. If he carries non like this Labour will have to wake everyone up to get them to vote.
Little seems to be a decent person who you could have a decent one-to-one conversation with, but he is not a good orator. He just doesn’t have a speaking x-factor. I’ve heard John key and Helen Clark speaking live and they were interesting and commanded attention. They were very good. Sadly, Little is not.
Another area he struggles, and I’ve seen this in media interviews as well as when he was questioned last night, is speaking about things he hasn’t practiced speaking about. He doesn’t seem quick on his feet, and he seems to lack the broad and deep policy knowledge both Clark and Key had.
Training Little up is unlikely to help, because that is more likely to come across as well practised palaver, of which there is already too much.
Little and his Labour trainers may just have to accept that he is not going to be an exciting, inspirational speaker. One plus here, perhaps, is that his main opponent Bill English is generally quite bland too.
So what Little and Labour need to do is have a total rethink of their content. Good political speeches excite and inspire, if the drone can’t do it then it should at least be a drone that hits a chord with voters.
Same old doesn’t cut it. What the hell can Labour really do differently, how will they pay for it, and how will they manage that in coalition with the Greens and possible NZ First?
It’s pointless going on and on saying they can do better without giving any real idea of how. That’s what voters need to know.
And they have to believe what they are being told.
Little doesn’t really look like he has belief. He’s going through motions without any sign of confidence that he can become Prime Minister and make a real and positive difference.
I don’t know if they are capable of that, so Labour could be in for a dreary campaign. That doesn’t mean they won’t succeed in forming the next government, but if they do it won’t be due to Little’s speaking.
Labour can call Little ‘the next Prime Minister’ as often as they like, but he has to start looking like it. Otherwise he will keep looking like someone saying ‘after the next meal I’ll lose weight’ as they scoff.
I would really like Labour to sort themselves out and start to look like a major party again, but last night I wasn’t enthused nor encouraged.
It’s worth mentioning that someone else who went, someone who hasn’t seen Little anywhere as much as me, considers themselves a Labour inclined voter, and agrees with many of the things that Little says needs to be improved, who was pretty much bored out of their tree and quite disappointed.
People need to believe that Little is a potential Prime Minister, so he will have to find a way of delivering more than boring fairy tales.
I had hoped that somehow Little would be different speaking live, that there would be some sort of spark, even some flames of inspiration. Instead he came across like yesterday’s ashes – which is an apt description given he often looks backwards to when things were supposedly better. He could be leading Labour to a cremation in the election.
Little’s Dunedin speech is here (video).