Ardern hypes but warns ‘be patient’ as Labour Party wants more

Jacinda Ardern is warning her supporters to be patient as the Labour Party approved a policy wish list at the conference in Dunedin in the weekend.

She has hyped up “let’s keep doing this” will more quietly warning that they can’t do everything immediately.

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“Be patient.”

That was the New Zealand Labour Party’s message to members during its annual conference, held in Dunedin over the weekend, and it was a message Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reaffirmed in her leader’s speech yesterday.

“We are also balancing financial security with the pressing social needs that the Government promised to deliver on,” Ms Ardern told a 1200-strong Town Hall audience yesterday.

“That is what we were elected to do.

“We can’t do everything at once, just like it doesn’t make sense to spend every cent you earn, but we are investing carefully in the areas that need it most. Things like health, housing, education.”

Afterwards Ms Ardern told reporters Labour members did not have raised expectations about what the Government could achieve.

“I would like to think we have always been pragmatic. You only get the chance to make change if you are in the position to govern, so we have always been a party which has both an activist base of people who go out and knock on doors, but with the purpose of giving us the chance to make change.

“There will always be a debate about what that change will look like.”

This may have been in part a response to the party wish list that came out of ther conference, and also the growing criticism from the left wing that change isn’t coming fast enough and isn’t revolutionary enough.

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Ardern’s biggest problem is managing expectations after Labour’s nine years in the political wilderness.

She works hype well, but needs to try to tone down expectations of what is realistically possible.

Her speech to the 1200-strong audience was one of the few events in the three-day long programme that was open to the media.

The rest of the conference took place behind closed doors including a session where local branches and committees put up their policy wish lists for a vote.

But Ardern’s speech tacitly acknowledged that some of the most trenchant criticism her Government faces includes from the left about policies like Kiwibuild, and her Government’s self-imposed spending limits under its Budget Responsibility Rules.

She went on the defensive over Kiwibuild helping thousands of young families into a home “not through a subsidy but the Government using our scale and buying power to do what the market hasn’t.”

The first KiwiBuild houses have been bought off the market that have already been built or planned.

“We can’t do everything at once, just like it doesn’t make sense to spend every cent you earn,” she told the conference.

But many of Labour’s grassroots are impatient for more radical change.

Some of the remits passed by the conference included a proposal to subsidise or make free disposable or reusable menstrual products; universally free dental care, and extending ACC to cover illness or disability.

Many of those remits will struggle to become government policy, even with the unanimous backing from the rank and file. A conference vote only kicks them up to Labour’s policy committee, and after that its platform committee – and after that they have to be vetted by the party’s funding group, which includes the likes of Finance Minister Grant Robertson. They will be wary of anything which doesn’t pass the political sniff test.

And any policies that makes it through all those hoops might not survive coalition negotiations after the election, like much of Labour’s manifesto this time round.

Ardern’s catch cry that she rallied the troops with at the election was “let’s do this”, and it was one she reissued at the weekend – but with that caveat that Labour can’t do it all at once.

Ardern finished her conference speech with:

And I would finish with a big giant PS,

Let’s keep doing this.

Let’s keep doing what? The hype, hoopla and self congratulation?

Because out the other side of her mouth Ardern is warning they can’t keep doing what everyone in the party wants.