Friday 29 May 2015

Making Connections: Why, Instead Of Looking Tired, Labour Needs To Get Emotional.

Fifth Time Lucky? After trying, and failing, four times to make an emotional connection with the electorate, perhaps Labour should look for a leader who got himself re-elected to Parliament the old-fashioned way - by raising heaps of cash and then persuading "mainstream" New Zealanders to vote for him. Napier MP, Stuart Nash (above) addresses a provincial business audience.
THE LATEST ROY MORGAN POLL has cast a deep pall of gloom over all three Opposition parties. Among Labour supporters, however, a growing sense of utter futility is palpable. Support for the party has crashed back to the abysmal figures of Election Night. Barely a quarter of the adult population is willing to identify Labour as their first electoral choice.
The corollary to Opposition gloom is, of course, Government elation. And, with the Roy Morgan poll showing National on 54 percent, who can blame its MPs and supporters for breaking out the bubbly? Remember, this latest poll was conducted when Amanda Bailey’s ponytail was dominating the headlines. Did it damage the Prime Minister’s reputation? (As so many of John Key’s enemies were hoping.) Not appreciably. “Teflon John” continues to shine.
At around the same time as Roy Morgan’s callers were working the phones, Sir Michael Cullen and the NZ Fabian Society were attempting to rally Labour’s dejected troops with a presentation entitled, rather hopefully, “Destination: Next Progressive Majority.” Arriving at that destination, says Sir Michael, will depend on whether Labour is able to re-present itself as the party of Choice, Aspiration, Responsibility and National Pride.
For that re-presentation to work, Sir Michael stresses, Labour must re-connect emotionally with the electorate. “Policies can be a means to this”, says the former Labour Finance Minister, “but rarely the most important means.” In saying this, Sir Michael is echoing the  advice of Lynton Crosby – the man who, earlier this month, won the UK General Election for the Conservative Party. Policy matters, says Crosby, only inasmuch as it expresses the less tangible and more visceral reasons for supporting one political party over another.
“This is Key’s huge strength”, Sir Michael observes, “he has enormous emotional connection with voters. The sloppy language we like to make fun of is the language most people speak, not like University lecturers like Helen, Steve and I. The casualness to turn things aside, not important, at the end of the day.”
It is National’s huge strength, as well, because there is no other politician in the Government’s ranks who connects with the ordinary Kiwi voter in the manner of John Key.
And it is here, on the question of leadership, that Sir Michael’s otherwise sober and sensible analysis falters.
In order to sell a Labour Party based on Choice, Aspiration, Responsibility and National Pride; a credible, likeable (and because, historically, Labour is coming off such a low base) a frankly inspirational leader is required. Someone with a personality powerful enough to rekindle the love Labour lost in the 1980s and 90s – and only fleetingly recovered in the early noughties. Someone capable of sparking-up the old flame. And, more than this, someone fresh and fascinating enough to attract and hold the attention of Generations X, Y and Z. Someone to warrant a selfie – and a vote.
Does this sound like Andrew Little? Does it sound like anyone in Labour’s post-2014 caucus? If the answer is “No”, then, even with Sir Michael’s sage advice, the party’s in a pretty pickle. It has tried, four times, to pick a winner: twice by the judgement of the Caucus alone; twice according to the judgement of the whole party. Every single one of them failed to fire. And whoever heard of fifth time lucky?
Something has to be done, however, or, like Sir Keith Holyoake, the New Zealand political leader he so closely resembles, the Prime Minister will lead his party to its fourth consecutive election victory.
To prevent that from happening, Labour is going to have to take a leaf out of the campaign maestro’s, Lynton Crosby’s, playbook. It is going to have to learn to listen to its pollsters and heed their focus groups. Not to discover what the public wants, and then give it back to them as Labour Party policy; but to learn which lines of argument work, and which don’t. Democratic politics is not about giving the people what they want, it’s about persuading the people that they want what you want. “When in doubt”, says Lynton Crosby, “stand for something!” And then, he might have added, convince a majority of voters to stand with you.
If Labour can’t find a leader to do that for them, then, for God’s sake, let them hire a campaign manager who can!
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 May 2015.


Sean said...

Crosby's political strategy though has always been about picking off the the UK they targeted 40/40 seats , hard to see how in one election Labour can manage to do this ? They have lost so much electorate ground that getting the vote out is becoming very hard. Oh and crosbys other main strategy is fear of foreigners ( they kill babies as he so nearly advised in Australia 2001 )..again a crowded market in NZ politics !

peteswriteplace said...

No more over-emotional outbursts leading to another leadership change. Young Nash is money in the bank and should be made deputy leader in a year or so. Work on the economy. Neo-liberalism has to go - period!

Anonymous said...


If Labour adopted a sustainable population policy I would vote for them. See for a model of a policy that is non-racial and focuses in improving the equity of outcomes for all citizens. But in particular lower social class citizens. (Sound familiar? Labour USED to have that focus. But if they do now, that aspect is well hidden.)

Labour currently have zero attraction as a party. They come across as a party of ciphers who are just trying to get into power by adopting a "mini-me national" approach.

I am keen on equity of opportunity and with the population ponzi economy followed by both Labour and National, the playing field is well tilted against New Zealand's lower social classes. As a result I won't be voting for either of those parties in the forseeable future.

Victor said...

A mistake that Centre-Left parties make repetitively is to present themselves as more humane and distributivist managers of an economy run in all other respects on current settings.

They thus lead themselves open to normally spurious but always plausible charges of profligacy, irresponsibility, lack of concern for the wealth-creating majority and the fastening of debt on generations yet unborn.

Faced with this approach, a decent, intelligent, mildly a-political person may well shrug her shoulders and say: "All the things you want are very nice in principle but we simply can't afford them and I've got my grandchildren to worry about."

Instead, the Centre-Left needs to hammer away at how current settings are progressively failing to meet our economic needs and, hence, our broader social needs. Social Democracy has its own 'supply side' preferences or, at least, should have!

I've noticed Grant Robinson making a reasonably good fist of this approach over the last couple of weeks. Now I'm not saying he should be Labour's next leader or that the leadership should (yet again) be up for question. That's an issue for another day. I'm just acknowledging a job well done.

Meanwhile, banging on about 'Choice, Aspiration, Responsibility and National Pride' might have its merits. But why should anyone prefer you to the Tories on that basis alone?

I note the same choice of watchwords figuring obsessively in the UK Labour Party's current leadership election, along with a compulsory penitentialism over spending, when what the party should really be penitential about is the excessive growth on its watch of an under-regulated financial services sector.

Anonymous said...

Im not sure thats what the labour party members, activists and union backers want and at the end of the day it is they and not the pragmatic power hungry caucus members who decide who the leader will be.
Sure they all want power, but I doubt the base and backers are willing to compromise they're ideals and select an affable moderate who can connect to the vote rich center without scaring it with the dangerous ideas of the labour base and pull the party back to the 40% needed to achieve power.

Interestingly you put Nash on this post, Im sure he could if elected to labours leadership and given free reign on policy lift labour to within striking distance of the 40% required, he is pragmatic, charismatic and smart without the arrogance of many of the labour left, he would also be fulfilling a sense of destiny by following Walter Nash's path, I just don't see the base going for him - he's probably already regarded as a neoliberal cukoo for his panning labours power nationalisation scheme and hes on friendly terms with Matt Hooton the dark prince of neoliberalism.

greywarbler said...

Sir Michael Cullen putting up inspirational words from Labour for the citizenry - CHARN - Choice Aspiration Responsibility National pride.

But perhaps CHARM - might be more effective. Take out national pride, there doesn't seem to be much of that to appeal to. Put Money in its place, or Media-darling, or Magical, or Matey!

Then again, to be depressing and reflect a common concern, there could be CHURN. Replace aspiration with a U word - unfunctional, unprofitable, unpurposed.

Perhaps its CHURN that is resonating in the minds of the citizenry. I would want Labour to get ahead. But for me the past resonates as I hear of so many problems - schools, Labour closing down; TV privatised with Labour unwilling to set up a different model. Housing, not enough state houses. Not enough sweat equity building their own houses alongside master builders by families. Then many apprenticeships which would have flowed on with perhaps a surplus of trained builders, then able to retrain to other disciplines. Using building state housing being a sensible recession tool, investing at low demand when good prices for materials could be obtained. Housing that unglamorous basic, now part of the rocket-star economy with prices going into space.

And the welfare economy, putting money into training, learning useful skills, then funding small start-ups. Getting behind beneficiaries, not with a boot but with transport, good childcare, friendly firmness assisting with skills and life planning funding small investments in individuals ready to work at some project. Letting people get the taste of small successes, and having a Grameen bank arrangement.

When Labour did provide, and encourage, if somebody appeared to rort it, they wiped the program, no matter what successes it had achieved. They were so fragile, so careful to protect their brand, so easily bruised.
So wimpy, so divorced from ordinary people's aspirations. No bloody imagination, no sense of practical economics, so demanding of 100% success to their own targets, ideology-driven by'best practice' culture driven middle class. That was Labour.

And that's why people can't get enthused. Getting Labour back might just be a road to more austerity. Better the austerity you know, than the one lurking behind the red banner. Someone this morning brought up smiling as a positive. That alone wouldn't help. Every wary child knows to avoid the smiling stranger, and their coloured sweets that might have a nasty aftertaste.

Jigsaw said...

It isn't only that John Key connects well with New Zealanders although he does, its the fact that others in opposition do so poorly at the same thing and so many of them have political baggage that they carry around and constantly display. Annette King is a good(bad)example. Her shrill voice and 'gotcha' stance in parliament doesn't make any impression on the public. Labour needs to start by clearing out much of its dead wood and to stop underestimating Key. Appealing to your own supporters alone doesn't win elections. Personally I doubt that John Key will leave a very memorable legacy behind. Comparing him to Keith Holyoake I find quite funny-on voice and the ability to appeal to the average New Zealander I find them absolutely poles apart.

pat said...

my understanding of Crosby's strategy is not to attempt to sway the entire or even the bulk of the electorate, rather it is to identify and understand and target that (usually relatively small) group that hold the key to the result....Matthew Hooton identifies this group as (if my memory serves) some tens of thousands votes mainly in west Auckland....whether he is correct with the number and location I dont know but I am inclined to agree that the strategy is valid and effective.....and difficult to counter, particularly by a party struggling with its own identity and without the support of the MSM

Anonymous said...

Nash - Ahhh-ahhh Saviour of the Universe!*

*Thanks Dai

The Flying Tortoise said...

An 'inspirational' leader for Labour!
Wow that is a radical idea...

Anonymous said...

Chris, I think you are right regarding the need for emotional connect and the reality that Labour has tested the opposite hypothesis 4 times now and that isn't working out too well for them. I just wish it wasn't necessarily Nash who stood out as the only handy answer. I'm sure plenty of his heart is in the right place, but we know from some public material that maybe not all of it is given his connections with Lusk etc, indeed the kinds of people who like him (e.g. Hooten). I think the risk is that they see him as ripe for the turning. They know they are going to wake up with a Labour Govt one day, so may as well be one they can own, or at least steer in an acceptable direction. If only there was another candidate on that emotional/authentic spectrum who didn't carry this slight question mark. Not as if the left doesn't have authentic messages to sell to great sections of the electorate. They just don't know how to package them up to sell, and they don't have a salesman who can sell them. Well, maybe, apart from a somewhat right wing young Mr Nash of Napier.

Victor said...

Obviously, I should have typed "Robertson" and not "Robinson". Senior moments are crowding in!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Do we know if people vote on policy? Or are politics more presidential now? If the latter is true then a charismatic leader is a must. Do we know if the "public" listen to 'shrill' voices in parliament? If so, we should probably pick someone a little more basso profundo :-). I'm assuming here that political parties do research these things.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
To my eye Jacinda Ardern looks the most inspiring prospect in view to fulfil the identified need; from whatever perspective.
She is motivated, attractive, highly intelligent and articulate.
The most inspirational thing Michael Cullen can do is keep his head down.
Cheers David J S

Andrew Berwick said...

Completely misses the point. Look at the budget: Key just raised benefit more than ever did Helen, and has stolen Labour's homebuilding policy. Look at fiscal performance: the last Labour govt was well to the right of Key.

The problem is that on policy, Key is sitting squarely "in the middle" - he was elected to continue Hellen/Cullen's polices and has pretty much done just that. And those policy settings are pretty "left wing" - certainly compared to the UK and Australia. There's no substantial appetite whatsover for policies to the left of where Key is today --- and no-one from the Right of National is going to support Labour.

Until Key goes, Collins or Tolley take over, and National jumps either to the (Douglas/Richardson) libertarian right, or the Muldoonist conservative right, Labour has no hope whatsoever.

But Labour and the Unions can't even convince union members to charge Key with (sexual) assault for fetishistic pony-tail pulling, then what do they expect?

Anonymous said...

David JS

What has she ever achieved?
She's a classic leftie politicain , who has never had a job outside politics, and hence no experience of the real world. Like Robertson. Though to be fair, such types are not unknown on the right. But she must be one of the worst examples.
At under 35, with no family, profession* or trade she's experienced little of life.
What are her qualifications?
Being relatively attractive?
A BA in Communications?!
(And to think people used to complain at all the lawyers and accountants in parliament)
Being a list MP?
Working as a researcher of the Labour party?
Offhand, I can't think of anyone I'd want less as a party leader or PM - saving perhaps some of the more bug eyed specimins outside parliament)

*Other than The Demon profession

Victor said...

Andrew Berwick

"Look at fiscal performance: the last Labour govt was well to the right of Key."

That's surely just a matter of the GFC, the "automatic stabilisers" and the limits of the possible.

If National had entered office in a different global economic environment, it would almost certainly have proved far more fiscally dry. That's where its heart is.

Conversely, had Labour been in charge from late 2009 onwards, it might well have been considerably more lavish with the public purse. We'll never know.

aberfoyle said...

Would you trust this face,doubt it,to harsh its eyes cover.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone asked John Campbell what he's doing next? I guess he might be at a loose end, he'd certainly get my vote.!

Anonymous said...

Good idea re John Campbell

jh said...

Certain voices dominate the media leaving the impression that what is left out can simply be ignored.

jh said...

"Far from being the natural defenders of the working classes, modern leftist parties are in bed with the forces of globalization and big business which cares nothing about the negative impact of mass immigration on the host society, to say nothing of protecting the working classes, the element in society most harmed by mass immigration and displacement, Ironically, workers naturally turn to leftist parties to protect their economic interests, only to find these parties support policies that drive down wages and transform communities, without seeking the consent of the working class. "
"Bolton demonstrates that organized labour in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was the enthusiastic vanguard of opposition to mass immigration. In Australia, such eminent labour leaders as W.G Spence, Joseph Chifley, and Arthur Caldwell formed the frontline of labour opposition to cheap third world labour (Bolton, pp. 20-25). Far from being racists, these men were the champions of the Australian workman at a time when organized labour in that country was just beginning to establish itself as a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, at that time in British Commonwealth history, arguably the most effective opposition to mass immigration was provided by organized labour. This leadership was by no means mere xenophobes or bigots, as they would be characterized in today’s politically correct media. For labour leaders, opposing mass immigration was akin to protecting the economic and social livelihood of the working classes from unfair and detrimental competition. "

That's old labour. New Labour says "let them eat diversity"

jh said...

That quote was from "In Bed Together: Marxism, Capitalism, and Immigration"

and isn't it the reason labour and the green party will fail?

greywarbler said...

Labour and the Green Party will likely fail if they can't unite in a declared coalition or close agreement before next election. Labour is up itself, full of class pride or something. The middle class who know best what's needed by the working class, and indeed for all needing opportunity for social mobility, are too proud to make up a good team by buying in strangers of another colour! Time to sack their managers and get some good wins under their belt before the big game in 2017.

And Stuart Nash is just another middle class smarty on the make isn't he? One of the passionate people we're always hearing from. Keen to get on and for NZ to go forward. All booming, confident rhetoric. Like that Peter Sellers satire on political speech -
Then Ed Milliband and the other Brits -

BM said...

Labour couldn't convince a man dying of thirst in a desert to drink a glass of water.

That's their problem, no idea how to sell ideas.

greywarbler said...

@ Sean
You say Crosby's approach has been to pick off the marginal seats. I think that Karl Rove should be mentioned here. He found that to identify the swinging voter and to target that percentage was the winning strategy in the USA. The use of computers to sort through the mass of the electorate was invaluable. Crosby Textor is the Australian version which the Brits found didn't rely on magic or hope but hard-headed psychology used to sell 'the brand'. That's the recent comment that has stayed with me - that political parties are selling themselves in all ways, the brand being given strength by the reality show provided by the assertions of having good policies and the stand-up comedians presenting them.

Anonymous said...

Labour has to attack from its founding principles and point out that the main thrust of the govts PR is to destroy the socialist left and that NATIONALS strategy is to tie capitalism to politics in such away that it is a bolt on the door of any political party being able to equate sovereignty of the nation to the freedom of Democracy and to judge before bowing down to the might of the multinational takeover that is coming in full .TPPA