Tuesday 24 June 2014

"Give Them Hell, David!"

Trust The People: Labour Leader, David Cunliffe, needs to grasp the difficult truth that the news media has written him off and is refusing to carry his messages fairly. He must now find the courage to go around them, addressing himself directly to that one incorruptible source of democratic power – the people themselves.

HARRY WAS A GONER. Nothing could save him. All the polls said so – the pundits too. He may have risen to the job by accident, they opined, but his dismissal would be deliberate. Harry was going to lose. You could bet on it. Everybody agreed.
Except Harry S. Truman, the thirty-third President of the United States. At the 1948 Democratic Party Convention Truman rounded on what he called the “do-nothing [Republican Party controlled] Congress”. Not only would he defeat his opponents, avowed the plucky little Missourian, but he’d “make these Republicans like it”.
Truman decided to take the Democratic Party’s progressive platform to the American voters directly – by train – on what would become his famous, 35,000 kilometre, “Whistle-Stop Tour”. The train would roll into a small American town, Truman would deliver a rousing speech, and then, after a few words with local reporters, the train would move on to its next stop.
During one of these tub-thumping speeches a man in the crowd cried out: “Give ‘em hell, Harry!” To which Truman replied. “I don’t give them hell, I just tell them the truth – and they think it’s hell!”
The 1948 presidential election was notable not simply for the vigour of Truman’s campaigning but for the fact that practically all the opinion polls pointed to a decisive Republican victory. So convinced were the “experts”, that one newspaper, The Chicago Daily Tribune, actually called the election for Truman’s rival, Thomas Dewey, on its front page.
In one of the most famous photographs of American political history, the real victor, Truman, triumphantly holds the Tribune aloft. It’s “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline reversed by the only poll that ever truly matters.

Bad Call: The Chicago Daily Tribune speaks too soon. President Harry S Truman celebrates winning the only poll that matters. 
Only after the election did the pollsters realise that their sampling methodology was connecting them exclusively to Americans wealthy enough to own a telephone. Overwhelmingly, they had been questioning Republican voters.
Harry Truman’s come-from-behind 1948 victory offers an important strategic lesson to the beleaguered leader of the New Zealand Labour Party. At the heart of the lesson is one very simple precept: trust the people.
And how is trust established? By meeting the people face-to-face. By letting the magic of the stump – the raw energy that arcs between speaker and audience – do its work. By grasping the difficult truth that if the news media has written you off and is refusing to carry your messages fairly, then you must find the courage to go around them, addressing yourself directly to that one incorruptible source of democratic power – the voters themselves.
Of course the “experts” will sigh and tell David Cunliffe that this is 2014 – not 1948 – and that times have changed. And, of course, ‘times’ have. But the fundamentals of politics have not.
Strategically, Mr Cunliffe has locked himself into a political process which, at the end of every week, is leaving him weaker, not stronger. Political journalists have already stamped the word “Loser” on his forehead and are treating him accordingly. As a communications strategy, relying on the news media to transmit Labour’s policy ideas to the voters has failed. It’s time for a new one.
If Mr Cunliffe was to take a leaf out of Harry Truman’s playbook he would organise and publicise a nationwide “whistle-stop” tour. Starting out softly in the halls of small-town New Zealand and building slowly to a resounding crescendo in the major centres’ town halls.
And, because this is 2014, every meeting, small and large, should be broadcast live on the Internet (brickbats, bouquets and hecklers included) and uploaded to YouTube the following day.
Can’t be done? Actually, it can. In July last year I watched young Martyn Bradbury and his anti-GCSB team fill the Mt Albert War Memorial Hall with 500 people. And then, three weeks later, pack the Auckland Town Hall with more than three times that number. On both occasions the meetings were broadcast live, to thousands more, on the Internet.
It Can be Done: Anti-GCSB Amendment Bill organisers fill the Auckland Town Hall, 19 August 2013.
Mr Cunliffe boasts that his Labour Party has doubled its membership in the space of a year. Let him prove it by making sure every one of the “whistle-stops” on his nationwide tour is Standing Room Only.
And what message should Mr Cunliffe deliver to these audiences? The same message he delivered to the audiences that elected him Labour Leader last year. The message that lifted Labour to 37 percent in the polls.
Or, as business columnist, Fran O’Sullivan, advised Cunliffe:
“Put aside the ‘Gotcha’ politics that both you and John Key have been indulging in. Instead, get out and sell Labour's defining policies – something which you are exceptionally skilled at when you take a disciplined approach.”
Stand and deliver Mr Cunliffe. Take Labour’s “defining policies” directly to the people who need them most. Tell the truth, David – and make National like it. Give 'em hell!
A version of this essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 24 June 2014.


David said...

The good news is that New Zealand is small enough to easily reach all of it with public meetings over a couple of months

Tiger Mountain said...

Well it is definitely worth a crack for David Cunliffe. Labour candidate Willow–Jean Prime is currently running a really positive meet the people campaign in the hardest of tory voting enclaves to crack–Northland.
fb Willow-Jean Prime

The good old boy/farmer/tradie/retiree network and large Te Tai Tokerau Māori seat make it difficult for Labour in the Far North but she is showing signs of breaking through the bad habit of voting tory that people (obviously against many of their material interests) have got into.

Consider bringing back the beard too David. If the left bloc does hold office on 21 Sept one John Armstrong’s “Cunliffe must resign” NZ Herald column might be one for the scrapbook.

Samuel Cohen. said...

The bad news is that the more the voters see of Cunliffe the less they seem to like him.

Anonymous said...

One might also mention Muldoon in 1975.

Martin English said...

One of the advantages of doing Town Hall meetings is that Cunliffe gets to control the agenda. Yes, there's some caveats, for example, sticking to the principle and policies, do not play gotcha politics, but the biggest advantage is that he bypasses the Labour party 'machine' that is (deliberately ?) failing to help him.


Victor said...

I don't know that it would work.

But I can't think of anything that has a better chance of working at this juncture.

And it would certainly invigorate our increasingly stale political culture.

So why not?

Harry Truman, btw, would have understood Cunliffe's challenges in Wellington, both within and outside his caucus.

As Truman remarked: "You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog."

Fossil said...

And he would tell them what exactly? And would he use the same voice in Howick as he uses out at Henderson?

Truman was a long-time professional politician who knew his target audience and had a good story to offer them. Cunliffe is one more product of our new managerial class of politician. If you swapped him for Bill English you could hardly tell the difference. The fact that the National Party finds him an easy target should not fool the left into thinking him its bloodied champion.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

An excellent thought, but pissing into the wind. The colour has all been bleached out of politicians, particularly since Lange. All the focus groups have turned them into functionaries, and as functionaries they're scared to be different – or colourful.

Brick said...

Why get excited - the current National government has become equally socialistic, and in many cases with nicer people. Sit back and enjoy!!

Kat said...

Well, at last Chris you appear to be prepared to back Labour, unequivocally. I assume you must now regard the party to be 'honest' as you have previously declared to be the main prerequisite for your support.

Good advice for David Cunliffe though. He will be PM.

jh said...

I see NZ First is dead. I read it in the SST. It was written by top journalist Andrea Vance:

However, our poll suggests voters aren't blaming migrants for the current housing crisis. They also have a strong handle on the true picture - with most able to correctly pick how many migrants make up the population.

Even Peters own voters aren't convinced by this old trick - 92 per cent of his supporters don't rate immigration as a problem.


A (26 December) Reid Research TV3 Poll found 62% of respondents want immigration reduced (68% Labour supporters, 85% NZ First, 58% Green.

jh said...

There is a BIIIG difference between the 62% of Labour voters who want immigration reduced and the 38% who do and it's about class. People are detecting hot air.

Jigsaw said...

He simply is unable to do what you recommend. He doesn't connect with ordinary people and no amount of coaching will enable him to do so. I recall listening to Norman Kirk at a small meeting in Akaroa in 1962 and he had - effortlessly he had it but largely it's a gift and I can't see Cunnliffe ever being able to do the folksy thing. Looking forward to a column on the labour quota fiasco.......

Anonymous said...

What a joke he has been so far as leader.
He is also anti family and anti democracy, he was key in forcing the homosexual marriage lie onto NZ.
Hope he loses miserably, he is so far. Bloody sellout to PC crap.


Russell said...

He, DC, doesn't convince me, I thought he may have had it originally, John Key, unlike his deputy, has the x factor, been hard to shake so far but some scandal or mistake will dent it sooner or later.
I didn't think DC's reference to scabs was very clever either. Mind you don't think Grant Robertson has it either.

Ray said...

Since when has "Bomber" been young
He acts and dresses like a grumpy old man

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You know what anonymous 15:43 – if you don't like gay marriage, don't get married to a gay person, don't go to a gay wedding. Otherwise it harms you not one wet whit.

Anonymous said...

Chris Trotter is assuming that there is still much of a traditional core of working class Labour Party supporters out there. I see little evidence for that. Kiwis are more aspirational these days. Even the relatively poor want more than a cheap state funded State House these days. I don't think you will get the Labour Party elected to govern by sticking to the tired old cliches that we hear so often from the political left. In the modern world many of the poor are actually in the centre or a little to the right of it on lots of issues. In order to knock Key off his perch these are the voters to concentrate on as Labour/Green already have a monopoly on hard left voters already. The problem is that the centre is where the incumbant is strongest.

When Chris Trotter keeps harking back to the likes of Kirk and Trueman I would say he is missing the mark and the point. Those guys and many of their contemporaries would not advocate the policies of the late 1940's or late 60's to early 70's if they were campaigning today. The world has changed and the Labour Party needs to move forward with policies for this Century rather than the last.