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It's just a jump to the left...

David Cunliffe from Rocky Horror Picture Show

By Jessica Williams, RadioLIVE Political Editor   

Twelve meetings, eleven cities, more promises than anyone can count - and three very different images of a Labour-led utopia. But all of them are tinged with a far deeper red than we've seen for a long while.

Shane Jones says he'll put the "our" back in Labour, Grant Robertson's invoked the spirit of Michael Joseph Savage and David Cunliffe has talked about the red tide rising.

Mr Cunliffe's played shamelessly to the rank and file. Look at his promises. Taxing the rich. Abolishing National's changes to the Employment Relations Act. Extending section 6A to all businesses, meaning even lawyers and accountants whose firm loses a big client could have their jobs guaranteed. He's rubbished the free market and the so-called neo liberal agenda. He's even hinted at buying back any state-owned enterprises sold off by National, although he prefers to couch that in "keeping all options open" terms. And he's made it clear Labour under his leadership will be a deep red party, not pale blue.

And that's gone over great. At the meetings I've attended, the biggest cheers have been reserved for any call for a return to what's called "traditional Labour values". There's been shouts of approval, stamping of feet. He's buying the votes of members and unions and, in return, they're buying his promises.

But should they?

Come Sunday, barring any serious horse-trading in caucus, David Cunliffe is likely to be the new Leader of the Opposition. An opposition that the government has been frantically trying to paint as extreme Left. Look at the number of times the Prime Minister has casually dropped that phrase into his speeches and media stand-ups. The message will be getting through.

Come next year, Labour won't be seeking to convince its members for their vote in the general election. They'll need to convince the undecideds. The people who weren't engaged enough to vote in 2011. The people who might be drifting away from National, unconvinced their lives are getting better despite the constant assurances the economy's in good shape. Will they be entranced by talk of a red tide?

On one hand, it'll be refreshing to see a clear difference between the two biggest parties. If Labour returns to its worker-centred roots, you'll see more points of difference between its manifesto and National's than we've seen for many years. They won't be subtle differences about spending; they'll be big ones about progressive ideals, the role of government, redistribution of wealth. People who've not been able to get excited about politics for a while could be properly engaged with that kind of debate.

But on the other hand, a suddenly revitalised Red Left could scare many moderates. For many people, the s-word - socialism - is an instant turn-off. They'll have their ears clearly attuned to any dog-whistles from National. Do we really want a single buyer for electricity? Do we really have a stomach for higher taxes? Do we really believe Mighty River Power and Meridian should be bought back, and damn the expense?

I'm going to call it. I reckon we'll see many of Mr Cunliffe's promises receive a very firm polish in the run up to the election. I also reckon we'll see some of those people who voted for him as leader wonder where that brave socialist-lite agenda went. Labour may no longer look light blue, true. But it won't be a deep red, either.

Labour may be making a jump to the left right now - but in the raucous spirit of the Time Warp, we should all expect to see a step to the right coming in short order.

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