Fran O’Sullivan on Two-Face Cunliife

Fran O’Sullivan writes at the Herald about Two-Face Cunliffe.

Cunliffe also uses an essential duality – which has been accurately pin-pointed as “talking out of both sides of his mouth” – to try to assuage middle-class and politically adept New Zealanders that he doesn’t really mean all the tosh he threw as bait to Labour’s bedrock base to garner voting support during his leadership campaign.

What fascinates and frustrates is that it is difficult to work out which side of Cunliffe’s mouth will triumph if he ends up this time next year as Prime Minister.

Will it be the crusading politician who wants to bring down bloated plutocrats, raise the underclass up and cut the ground out from under particular corporates through legislative intervention?

Or will it be the more considered politician – an experienced former cabinet minister who is prepared to take advice and feedback from affected players instead of ramming decisions down their throats with a damn the consequences mentality? 

Ouch, talks out of both sides of his mouth.

Cunliffe wants to focus the political debate on inequality. The “many versus the few” slogan that is redolent of Labour’s 2011 election campaign will be brought back in a big way in 2014 with a renewed focus on living wages.

But to capture the middle-ground and some centre-right voters who want a shift away from an over-reliance on agriculture as the basis of national wealth, Cunliffe is spruiking an over-arching vision of a more innovative economy with policies to assist the move towards more high-technology and “value over volume” industries.

Around the traps he has also been talking to select audiences about cutting Kiwibank loose to enter the business banking market. This would mean recapitalising Kiwibank so it has a larger balance sheet to write off business loans.

Ed Miliband has endlessly tries the “many not the few” line much to his constant failure…it is clumsy and means stuff all to anyone but beltway junkies.

Of more concern is David Cunliffe’s discussions about Kiwibank. I’m not sure the words “write off business loans” are ones we want to be hearing…Kiwibank has never paid a dividend despite hundreds of millions of dollars in capital to provide banking services to the poor. Compounding risk by adding business banking write offs won;t help let along the many millions more required in capital fro no return whatsoever.

This might seem absurd given the dominance of Australian-owned trading banks. But Cunliffe says smaller New Zealand businesses suffer from market failure because the Australian banks are risk-averse and usually demand small business owners guarantee their loans with hard assets.

His plans to move the state further into the banking market is not the end of this interventionist scenario. Labour is also wedded to intervening in the electricity market to bring power prices down and plans to start KiwiAssure to give greater insurance cover for lower premiums.

I’m not sure how having a 93rd insurance company in the market is going to help in any way…especially as their chosen delivery method, via Kiwibank is already covered by the bank’s own efforts.

The problem facing Cunliffe is how he can convince enough voters the country is on the wrong track given the resurgence in economic growth. This growth will continue into next year as a result of a range of factors including Auckland’s housing boom, big demand for dairy exports, the Christchurch post-earthquake rebuild, immigration and the favourable terms of trade.

Overcoming this is no easy feat for any politician even one as experienced and competent as Labour’s leader.

There is room for much more contestability in politics. But John Key also has the power of incumbency. It is Key who can set the election date, bring in the royal circus and delight New Zealanders with the presence of Prince George and his parents, post a Budget surplus, crank up the Canterbury rebuild and much more.

Does anyone really think, aside form journos, that having a royal visit will make any difference to how someone votes ?

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.