As much as there are great expectations on John Key’s statement to Parliament today, the pressure on Phil Goff is only slightly less. He may not have the responsibility of running a country, but that’s the problem: little or nothing indicates he will have a country to run in the foreseeable future, the optimism of the activist left notwithstanding. Goff’s reply needs to be a game-changer; it needs to reframe the past year, foreshadow the coming “middle year” when the policy engine runs at full noise, and it needs to demonstrate that Goff has got some game and is willing to bring it.
It looks like Labour have just such an event in mind, but I have substantial misgivings about Goff’s planned reply to Key’s throne speech.
If the article in the Sunday Star Times is to be believed, the speech’s greatest asset will also be its greatest weakness: it’s to be delivered in the first person. There’s going to be a lot of “I have failed to” and “I should have” sort of statements coming out of Goff’s mouth which will undoubtedly be taken out of context, and on a more subtle level, it will reiterate the fact that Goff is in a pretty impotent position at present. Labour is disconnected from key constituencies, and there remains a perception that it still doesn’t really get why it lost. People will more naturally associate “failure” and “sorry” and so on with Labour than with National. The task of this speech and the coming months is to turn that around, but it will be hard work to sufficiently remind the audience that these things relate to Key rather than Goff himself, given that they’re coming from Goff’s mouth and because it runs counter to the established narrative about Key and what people want to believe about him.
He’s staking his own personal and political appeal against that of the PM. It’s a big risk, but hey, boldness is what’s needed. It’s not as if Goff has much to lose, and if he can make it work, it has potential to reframe the debate from being about the opportunities of the future to the missed opportunities of the past.