Opinion: Labour’s latest policy purge this week was a depressing reminder of how cynical politics can be.

At Monday’s post-Cabinet press conference, the Prime Minister reinforced what many people had already been thinking – the policy purges are about selling out on ideas Labour believes in but is too afraid to progress.

Scrapping speed limit reductions, lowering the voting age, and better defining who is a contractor and who is an employee will do very little to help with bread and butter issues – almost $600 million of the $1 billion savings announced on Monday comes from stopping the clean car upgrade scheme.

* Luxon back in the fight stealing from Labour’s playbook
* Hipkins picks his team, turns focus to policy purge
* Less word soup, more vision needed from Luxon

Parts of the bonfire freed up money for Hipkins to announce an inflation-adjusted boost for superannuitants and beneficiaries – smart politics in this expensive climate while also leaving absolutely no oxygen for the Opposition in the process.

However, putting aside tweaks here and there with cost of living payments, both parties seem devoid of fresh ideas that differentiate them from each other.

Much of Monday’s announcement was an exercise in getting rid of Labour and Green Party policies that some voters might look unfavourably on when they go to the polling booth in seven months.

Asked to name one policy that Hipkins’ Government would be remembered for now that he’s held a match to even more of Jacinda Ardern’s policies, he told Newsroom there were 28 pages of examples – he just couldn’t name one of them.

In the 2017 Newshub leaders’ debate between Ardern and National’s Bill English, the pair were asked what they would march in the streets for.

English gave one of the worst responses of his very long political career when he said, “for the right to govern this country”.

On Monday when Hipkins was asked by Newsroom what he plans to do this year other than respond to the cyclone and cost of living crisis, he replied, “well, I’m aiming for us to have at least three more years after this where we can do a range of things as well”.

And there it is, Hipkins saying the bit you’re not supposed to say out loud – that the focus is getting back into power.

The next seven months won’t be about policy that will progress New Zealand and New Zealanders’ lives but a strategic game of vote-winning.

It might just be that Kiwis are seeing the increasing impacts of severe weather events and climate change as a bread and butter issue too.

Policies focused on emissions reductions, encouraging mode shift by creating safe and accessible public transport, tackling the impact alcohol advertising has on the country’s binge-drinking culture, or any other number of things now scrapped by Hipkins are far too likely to spook the horses.

The best way to please the most people? Don’t do anything because then there’s nothing for the majority to dislike.

It’s a fight for the status quo, a fight to not progress or improve, a fight for the worst kind of politics.

Here the country is with a single-party majority government for the first, and possibly last, time in MMP’s history and instead of using it to make change the new leadership is going to spend the rest of the year scrapping it out with National to achieve nothing of note.

Christopher Luxon has been doing a poor job of articulating what a National-led government would look like under his watch and didn’t do much to inspire confidence that had changed when he fronted media on Monday.

Asked what policies and projects he stands for, Luxon told Newsroom his party had a clear plan on Three Waters and childcare support.

Those examples amount to a Labour policy on water services that National has made some tweaks to and more money for parents struggling to work and put their kids in care, which Labour first expanded with its policy in November last year.

The only ones who may gain from Labour and National’s unwillingness to do anything outside of the box is the Green Party, especially given most of the items slashed by Hipkins this week are its policies.

It’s fertile ground for them to campaign on but given the softly-softly approach of the press release they put out, it doesn’t seem like the policy bonfire has put much fire in their bellies at all.

Monday night’s 1News Kantar Public poll had the Greens up four points to 11 percent and reversing a recent declining trend.

It might just be that Kiwis are seeing the increasing impacts of severe weather events and climate change as a bread and butter issue too.

ACT is holding steady on 11 percent while both major parties suffered drops – Labour down two points to 36 percent and National falling three points to 34 percent.

On those numbers Labour and the Greens could govern with the help of Te Pāti Māori.

It’s not new or surprising that political parties are all seeking to be in government and some of the reprioritisation by Hipkins is necessary and smart politics – it just shouldn’t come at the cost of any progress at all.

So much for being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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