"People Are More Important Than Progress": The Values Party's 1972 "guerrilla" TV Commercial electrified younger voters. To re-energise their 2017 campaign, the Greens need to dig deep into the bedrock of environmentalist ideology and produce an equally uncompromising political testament for the voters of the twenty-first century.
THE COLLAPSE in Green Party support – down to 4.3 percent in the latest Colmar Brunton poll – can be reversed. But, halting the slide, and building the Green Vote back up to its 1999-2014 average of 7.65 percent, will require James Shaw and his campaign team to dig deep into the bedrock of green ideology. They will have to reach back through time to the very first stirrings of the post-industrial political project in the early 1970s and rediscover what it was that so captured the imagination of that young and turbulent generation of voters. Then they will have to distil it into campaign propaganda powerful enough to snatch their party from the jaws of electoral death.
They will be sorely tempted to resist this advice. To re-tool their propaganda at this late stage is not only a very big ask, it is also a very expensive one. They have a re-cycled slogan, re-designed signage, and a re-edited TVC (television commercial) in their campaign kit-bag. The urge to just run with what they’ve got will be very strong. It will also see them bundled out of Parliament.
What they need to absorb is that the “core vote” of any political party is zero. (The Alliance used to tell people that its core vote was 10 percent – what is it now?) Once the belief takes hold that: ‘A vote for the Greens is a wasted vote’; the party is doomed. With the “Jacinda Affect” at full-throttle, and Labour ruthlessly stripping the Greens’ of their most valuable policy assets, the party’s current pitch to the voters: “Love New Zealand”, and a TVC describing Green New Zealand as “a place where businesses are booming in a thriving green economy”; simply isn’t enough to stop the slide.
Right now, what all those deserting voters need is a clear and compelling restatement of what the Green Party stands for and why, now, more than ever before, it needs to be represented in Parliament. The Greens current TVC doesn’t do that. It has the look and flavour of an ice-cream commercial. Oh sure, all the milk is sourced from free-range cows, grazing freely on organic farms, but, when all the selling-points are laid to one side, what we’re looking at is still just another item of confectionary.
James Shaw and his campaign team’s No. 1 priority, therefore, should be to settle themselves comfortably in front of the nearest computer screen and watch the Values Party TVC from 1972 – fear not, it’s on YouTube.
The script is 45 years old, but it still possesses the sort of intellectual toughness that makes you stop, listen, and think:
Economic growth equals more productivity, more people, more pollution.
It also means more money – so we’re told.
IMAGES OF 1970s CONSUMER SOCIETY FLASH ACROSS THE SCREEN IN RAPID SUCCESSION.
Can money buy us a new planet?
Economic expansion is not the answer. The world’s wealthiest nations can attest to that.
IMAGES OF CIVIL STRIFE, POVERTY AND INDUSTRIAL POLLUTION DISSOLVE INTO IMAGES OF CHILDREN’S FACES.
New Zealand twice led the world in social reform – it can again.
Are we to have a quantity of life – or a quality of life?
Let’s preserve the good things we still have.
People are more important than progress.
CUT TO VALUES PARTY LOGO.
“Wow!”, I hear you say, “Which ad agency made that? It’s brilliant!”
Yes, it is, but it wasn’t the work of a paid copywriter or an ad agency. The whole thing was thrown together in a few days by Hugh Macdonald and Rob Ritchie, a couple of young cinematographers working at the National Film Unit (a state-owned movie studio based in the Wellington suburb of Miramar). In a strictly undercover and emphatically unofficial effort, these two “guerrilla” filmmakers captured to perfection the core message of the Values Party founder, Tony Brunt. Broadcast on the country’s single television channel at the commencement of the 1972 election campaign, it’s effect on young voters was electrifying.
Co-director of the Values Party TVC, Rob Ritchie (centre) with two of his National Film Unit colleagues, circa 1972.
If the Greens are to come back, it is a message of this quality, simplicity and audacity that James Shaw and his colleagues need to craft – and quickly. They must reach out beyond the formulaic offerings of the advertising industry to the vast pool of talented Kiwi film and video makers. They must appeal for the help of people like Darren Watson and Jeremy Jones – the guys who created the extraordinary “Planet Key” music video. Not only do they need to ask for the help of Robyn Malcolm, but of every other progressive artist in the country. Beg them to activate their networks, punch their speed-dials and rustle-up the talent required to create a Greens campaign TVC every bit as good – if not better – than the Values Party TVC of 1972.
The most important lesson to draw from that historic 1972 Values ad’ is how little a message dates when its content is both real and relevant. Forty-five years on, and confronted by the looming catastrophe of global warming, the reality and relevance of the pivotal question located at its heart: “Can money buy us a new planet?” is as undeniable as it is urgent. What’s also clear, is that a world dominated by the philosophy of “More!” is, indeed, a doomed world.
New Zealand needs the Greens in Parliament. Not to turn New Zealand into a “thriving green economy” filled with “booming businesses”, but to remind us, at every possible opportunity, that “people are more important than progress”, and that a better world is possible.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 19 August 2017.