6 Nov 2015

Labour conference 'a good test of party members'

10:37 am on 6 November 2015

Labour goes into its first conference in Palmerston North this weekend after its crippling 2014 election defeat and with its fourth leader in as many years.

Labour Party Leader, Andrew Little.

Andrew Little has brought public support for the party back into the low 30's. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

From the outside, Labour's parliamentary wing appears to be stable and united, but whether that extends to its party membership will become clear over the three day meeting.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the weekend meeting was a time to regroup and start looking to 2017.

"There's a bit of clearing the decks, as we now take the policy platform and work out what's needed to prepare ourselves for the next two years and the basis on which we start to think about the big ideas and the next big policy issues that we want to take forward next year."

Under his leadership, the party's level of public support has lifted back up into the low 30's, after the disastrous 25 percent result Labour suffered at last year's election under former leader David Cunliffe.

Mr Little said the polls were about where he would expect.

"There are some things you can't do without conference, and you know we've always known that we need to have a conference under our belt to get some of the policy things moved along."

Labour West Coast MP Damien O'Connor said Andrew Little was doing well as leader.

"He was never going to be a star that drags us to the top of the polls immediately. I think he's consolidating everything.

"Some people thought, you know, he had the union background, he's going to let all the union ideas run amok, but he's run a really balanced approach towards discipline within the caucus and, I hope, across the party.

"This conference will be a good test of party members."

Labour's newly confirmed deputy leader Annette King said this year's conference was not a time for big policy announcements.

Very few parties made major policy announcements a year after an election, she said.

"By next year, you will get a very good flavour of where we're heading in policy direction in the major areas, but that's not to say that at this conference people won't be getting ideas of our direction of travel.

"Certainly from Andrew you will get the vision he has for the Labour Party and a Labour-led Government."

A lot of effort has gone into renewing Labour's relationship with the Green Party, which soured under David Cunliffe's leadership.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said it was important to show the public what a future Government would look like.

"We've been meeting informally every two months or so and we have open lines of communication between our senior staff, we keep each other informed about what we are doing, so it is a constructive working relationship."

Ms King and Mr Robertson will give speeches on Saturday, and the leader's speech will be on Sunday afternoon.

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