I haven’t had time to do a thorough analysis of Clark’s speech but from a quick once-over I can say with certainty that it is underwhelming. Let’s face it, this was her chance to take the front foot and show the government had a policy agenda fit for a new term. Instead her speech is a confusion of values-framing “vision” statements and bureaucratic jargon such as:
This strategy will focus on the retention of skills in the workplace, and on better ways of measuring and valuing skills, and identifying the demands for skills and how to increase supply. While the strategy will apply across the entire workforce, there is a particular strand of work in the programme which ensures that young people who are already in work are a primary target.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are some very good ideas behind this but phrases like “there is a particular strand of work in the programme” don’t inspire an audience. In fact I’m not even entirely sure what that means and I can’t see it inspiring voters with its bold “vision”. And that’s Labour’s problem. They’ve got good policy and are taking the country in the right direction (albeit more slowly than I would like them to) but they fail to communicate that to ordinary New Zealanders. They are very good governors but increasingly they are looking like they are all substance and no style. Ironically they are facing an opposition that is totally the reverse.
It’s instructional to see how the media are treating the speech. They’ve latched onto the only concrete soundbite they can get from it and are running it as “Labour to lift school leaving age” and “Clark vows to keep under-18s in education” and even then are obviously having difficulty subbing it down to a sharp and meaningful headline.
I can only lament the fact that this was an opportunity to release a bold and significant policy which could be encapsulated in a few words. There was a rumour around the traps that Clark was to announce a first home buyer policy. Can you imagine the headlines? “Labour helps young familes into housing” “Labour moves on housing crisis” etc. Alas, it was not to be. But something like that would’ve set the agenda for the next year and made sure people knew what Labour stands for. It’s well known that, on top of everything else she does, Clark writes her own speeches and takes little advice on them. I would suggest she stops doing so.