It’s a peculiarity of modern politics that the campaign cycle seems to start earlier and last longer every term.

That sense is heightened by New Zealand’s three-year terms – and so it is that barely a year after the Government took office, Labour party president Nigel Haworth took to the stage to proclaim the party was “well ahead of the game already for the 2020 campaign”.

The Labour council had signed off on its plans for the next two years, Haworth said, with a campaign oversight group already up and running and appointments for a campaign chair and manager currently being considered.

The pool of potential candidates for 2020 was already being built, with Haworth quipping about his sudden surge in popularity.

“You might not be surprised to know that I’m invited to quite a lot of coffees now with people who’ve suddenly decided, ‘I’ll be an excellent candidate for the Labour Party’…

“The pool of talent we have available is quite extraordinary and this will go too for the next two or three cycles, this is a really wonderful thing.”

The party’s coffers have clearly been buoyed by Jacinda Ardern’s rapid ascent to the leadership then prime ministership:  Haworth said its economic situation was “essentially the best it’s been in for a very very long time, possibly ever”.

“We’re being reasonably frugal, and using the money reasonably wisely.”

Pushing for better financial performance

That wisdom may not have always been in place, with Haworth referring to the renegotiation of the terms for loans given to the party by its Labour electorate committees (LECs) which had mounted up in recent years.

“We were given a debt created historically for reasons which we won’t go into, $700,000, and we’ve dealt with it over the past six months in a way that shows the willingness of LECs to understand the issue.”

It’s perhaps no surprise that Haworth called on the party to do much better financially – not so much for election campaigns, with reserves already held in store for the 2020 campaign, but other parts of the party’s operations which had been neglected.

“It’s about, for example, the long-needed renovations to Fraser House that we’ve begun but we need to do more on.

“It’s about the outstanding pay and conditions issues faced by our staff – we should be the best of employers, not an employer that sits at the margins because we’re tight on money.”

The party needed to do better with a bigger staff, he said, expanding its organiser networks and the support it provided to LECs to win elections.

An organisational shake-up?

It seems a wider organisational shake-up may be in store: Haworth said the Labour council had been debating for some time about whether it was “a party fit for purpose organisationally”.

“In other words, if we were to start a party under MMP would it be structured as it is today?”

The answer, he said, was “somewhat” at best – and members had not only expressed support for changes to the role of LECs, but for wider reforms

“[Members] actually told us the scope of the change had to be greater, that we were thinking in too narrow a perspective.”

One area of reform forced on Labour is in its health and safety regime, with a damning report into the party’s summer camp scandal suggesting a thorough review of its internal policies.

Haworth said the party was bringing in special organisations for the reforms, “an especially challenge task in a volunteer-based organisation”, but was clear itself on one bottom line.

“Within that regime we are placing special emphasis on the creation of a special environment within which bullying and harassment have no place.”

Guarding against complacency

It was bullying of a different kind that Haworth targeted the National Party over, citing Judith Collins’ online comments about a KiwiBuild couple as an example of the Opposition’s sense of entitlement, “internal turmoil and uncertainty”.

“Cornered creatures attack, and they attack fiercely – so it will be with National. Their sense of entitlement is still profoundly real, the sense that they were somehow cheated is still profoundly real – they will do what they will to regain power.”

It was unsurprising then that Haworth warned against complacency, a sentiment quickly becoming a theme of this weekend as Labour tries to keep its members’ feet on the ground.

“We really must not assume the victories of last year automatically transfer to nine years or 12 years or 15 years or 30 years.”

Beating back that giddiness may be hard, if what Haworth described as an especially “voluminous” karaoke night is any guide – but building a path to victory in two years’ time is clearly well underway.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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