Red faces over election tactics

September 30, 2005

The New Zealand Labour Party's hopes of hanging on to power in last week's general election may have been dashed when its grand gesture of abolishing interest payments on student loans lost some of its allure.

The ombudsman ordered the release of Treasury costings for the move. They suggest that the bill could be three times higher than Labour claimed, undermining the party's re-election strategy of pushing a message of credibility, stability and experience in the final days of campaigning.

Even on Labour's own costing of NZ$300 million (£116 million), vice-chancellors warned that this would leave no room for better resources and salary awards. The banks predicted the true cost would be nearer NZ$1 billion.

The National Party also suffered an own goal when its leader, Don Brash, visited Maori tertiary institution Te Wananga o Aotearoa to announce his policy, hoping to capitalise on allegations of financial mismanagement, racial separatism and "soft" courses at the institution. But the institution showed that it is a quick learner in the art of political theatre.

Having been told that he would not be allowed on campus, the unprepared National leader and his colleagues were invited in for a powhiri , or formal welcome. Gerry Brownlee, the Maori Affairs Spokesman, was unable to respond in Maori, so he was presented with course materials for a Maori language programme. Dr Brash, who intended to deliver a strong message that there was no place for separate institutions based on race, told staff that the institution would prosper under a National government.

Election-night results gave the Labour Party the chance of a third term, with a one-seat edge over the National opposition. But special votes are yet to be counted, and the final outcome will not be certain until the end of the month.

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