Transformation, big tweaks or steady does it?

Here’s Labour’s tax slogan: “Let’s do this but not yet and maybe not at all.”

Last week Labour pushed the panic button — a week after Steven Joyce’s backfired panicky attempt to dig a big hole in Grant Robertson’s fiscal numbers.

Helped from the sidelines by Winston Peters demanding Labour come clean, Joyce’s “show us the numbers” tax assault forced a Labour retreat to safe ground. National might want Joyce as campaign chair next time after all.

Any major tax adjustment by Labour is now off to 2021. (The Greens want at least a capital gains tax in the first term.)

Robertson’s stated policy for two years has been a working group to work out how to refashion the tax system, with all tax possibilities on the table, including specifically on assets and land. He was following Bill English’s example in 2009, which led to tax changes not announced before the 2008 election.

In Labour’s revised tax proposal, the cabinet will decide whether or not to back something the working group backs. So, wait and see.

Is this chary Labour ready to lead a government?

Well, tax is complex and technical and amateurs in opposition (English in 2008) sensibly wait till they can mine officials’ and other experts’ minds before being definitive.

And Labour does have well developed policies in most other areas.

Still, do those other changes point to a new dawn?

The English-Joyce government has been tweaking, in some cases significantly, to anaesthetise the social failures arising from its fiscal stringency and 1980s-style reverence for and faith in markets.

Labour’s challenge from younger supporters, who see Ardern as potentially transformative, is to post signposts to different ways of thinking which digital technologies and environmental change will require for governing in the 2020s.

Labour’s environment and climate policies do have 2020s signposts: Ardern’s “nuclear moment”. (National is still edging into the 2010s.)

But Labour’s social and economic policies so far are tweaks, markedly different from National’s and some of them pretty big tweaks, but not root-and-branch reshaping.

So, might its younger supporters feel let down three years from now and go looking for an Opportunities-type transformative party?

Reality check: high non-enrolment and non-voting by the young mean Labour’s actual vote (likewise the Greens’) may be lower than its opinion poll numbers – even allowing for unofficial reports of a recent enrolment pickup. And Labour has to attend at least equally to older voters, who do vote and likely favour tweaking over transformation.

Warning about the polls: there are fewer now and changing lifestyles and communications have challenged sampling methodologies.

Next: trendlines in rolling averages have in past elections pointed fairly close to the final outcomes. But the Jacinda shock to Labour, Greens and New Zealand First support has distorted trendlines.

So, treat polls warily, including this week’s.

Next: the election-night count is not the final count. In 2014 the special votes sliced National’s vote by a percentage point between election night and the final count. In 1999 the Greens were out on election night, then just in on the final count.

So factor in the specials.

Another distortion: tactical voting to ensure the Greens cross the 5% threshold to help Labour could cut Labour’s vote but not save the Greens. Likewise, thinking the Greens won’t get 5% and voting Labour could ensure they won’t.

There is also still time for a shock which shifts the goalposts for those yet to vote. Some of this campaign’s shocks and surprises have been between my Monday 11am filing time and publication on Tuesday morning. So is this column already out of date?

Next: beware assumptions about who might join whom.

In 1996 Peters was severely caustic about National and vice-versa but they shacked up.

Logic says this time he would more likely back a first-term government than prop up a fourth-term one.

But logic and politics are unfaithful bedfellows.

Example: New Zealand First rails against “race-based” policies (such as mandatory local Maori consultative panels) and parties. But on Sunday Peters did not rule out a governing deal including the “race-based” Maori party, as in National-New Zealand First-Maori or Labour-New Zealand First-Maori (but not Greens?).

Also, the Maori party formed out of anger at Labour and has shacked up with National since 2008, providing it with proxy Labour votes because the Maori electorates overwhelmingly party-vote Labour.

Now the Maori party could be in a Labour-led setup and any electorate won off Labour might, in effect, boost Labour.

Confused? That’s MMP.

So, can English scramble back? Or is it Prime Minister Ardern?

A forecast? I put 10 cents on Ardern and that only because there are no 1 cent pieces — and I want a hedge, or two. You decide if that is a forecast.

* I won’t vote. I haven’t since 1975. That, in my view, goes with the job. I might next time.