Monday 10 October 2022

Lessons For Labour – But Will It Heed Them?

Mr Fix-It: Wayne Brown’s “Fix Auckland” slogan chimed perfectly with his key demographics. They were less interested in ideological concerns than they were in sorting-out the council. They liked the fact that Brown was abrasive. They did not want a Mayor who suffered fools gladly and allowed himself to be bossed around by city bureaucrats.

THE LEFT have a whole lot of lessons to learn from their “shellacking” in Saturday’s local government elections. Sadly, the chances are high they’ll learn none of them. The response of the Auckland Left has been particularly infantile – and hypocritical. It was National Party activist Hamish Price who responded most effectively to the Woke Left’s horrified reaction to Wayne Brown’s decisive victory over Efeso Collins in the Auckland Mayoralty race, with the wickedly pithy tweet:

“In 2019 Auckland elected an old white guy as Mayor of Auckland against Person Of Colour John Tamihere. But that wasn’t racist because Phil Goff was backed by Labour.”

Not that the Right’s gleeful exposure of the Left’s ethical and political shortcomings will prevent the latter from blaming everyone but themselves for the defeats they have suffered across the country. In their sights are – in no particular order – the Baby Boomer Generation, the postal voting system, the political passivity of the poor, and the dysfunctional design of our democratic political system.

Political analysts will search in vain for evidence that the Left understands that its succession of defeats (Auckland, Rotorua, Whanganui, Christchurch, Dunedin) is attributable only in part to a nationwide turning away from the Labour Government and its policies – especially the deeply unpopular “Three Waters” project. Evidence that Saturday’s losers are coming to grips with their critical failure to master ad-man Mike Hutcheson’s “Three Ms” – Message, Money, Machine – has yet to surface.

In time, one hopes, the Left will come to understand that, in all four of the main centres, it was the winning candidates’ mastery of the Three Ms that delivered their victories.

Wayne Brown had all the money he needed to hone his campaign’s message: hiring specialists to test a variety of pitches on potential voters. These experts were also able to identify which demographics were the most likely to vote for his ideas. Guided by political “hired guns” Matthew Hooton and Ben Thomas (formerly “Exeltium”) Brown’s campaign maintained an impressively tight operational discipline.

The key demographic for Brown turned out to be the “Country Calendar Watchers”. These were the over-55 voters who still relied on radio and television for most of their information. The folk who tuned-in to Newstalk-ZB to hear what people like themselves (and Mike Hosking) were thinking and saying. They watched One News, and snuggled-in tight on Sunday evenings for the reassuring images of the decent, hard-working (mostly Pakeha) New Zealand cockies so beloved of “Country Calendar’s” producers.

Wayne Brown’s “Fix Auckland” slogan chimed perfectly with this key demographic. They were less interested in ideological concerns than they were in sorting-out the council. They liked the fact that Brown was abrasive. They did not want a Mayor who suffered fools gladly and allowed himself to be bossed around by city bureaucrats. They were in the political market for a disruptor: someone who could, in the words of Mark Zuckerberg, “move fast and break things”. That the candidate was also a civil engineer, with a reputation for repairing broken things, certainly did him no harm.

Brown did not have a “Machine” in the classic, feet-on-the-ground, Labour/National door-knocking tradition. He didn’t need one. He could reach his key demographic through Newstalk-ZB. Brown’s advertising spend on Auckland’s most popular radio station was all the “Machine” he needed. Historically, the over-55s are the citizens most likely to participate in local elections. They do not need to be “mobilised” – merely steered in the right direction. Carefully targeted social-media messaging added a sweet layer of icing to Brown’s cake.

The same turned out to be true, mutatis mutandis, of successful campaigns across the country. The Right was well-funded, well-prepared, and presented a message which those most likely to vote were eager to hear.

Even in Wellington, where the supposedly left-wing Tory Whanau rolled over both the incumbent, Andy Foster, and Labour’s Paul Eagle, the result owed as much to the candidate’s mastery of the Three Ms as it did to her ideology. Whanau is a superb communicator, whose message that Wellington needed a Green Mayor resonated energetically in the country’s greenest city – electorally-speaking. With sufficient money to sustain her campaign, all Whanau needed was a machine. No problem. Anyone living in or visiting Wellington could hardly miss Whanau’s ground-game. There were feet-on-the-ground in large numbers and plenty of youthful enthusiasm. The newly-elected Mayor told the media that the size of her win came as a surprise. It shouldn’t have.

It is the common theme linking these successes that should give Labour the most concern. Across the country there is a growing sense of disconnection and disempowerment. So much needs to be done, but the democratic transmission-belts that are supposed to carry the needs and wants of the citizenry to the individuals and entities charged with delivering them, no longer seem to work.

Plans are made, and decisions are taken, but not by citizens: not even by the representatives of citizens. At both the national and the local level, unelected and increasingly unaccountable bureaucrats appear to have taken charge. Everywhere, New Zealanders see evidence of centralisation. Everywhere the checks and balances of democracy are being discarded. Elected councillors are expected to act as rubber stamps. Citizens are the stampees.

Nowhere was this situation more vividly illustrated than in the actions of the Orwellian-named “Council Controlled Organisation”, Auckland Transport (AT). Without warning, AT’s CEO informed the users of Auckland’s rail network that its tracks were about to be torn up and re-laid. This would require a cessation of services – some as long as a year. Hugely disruptive of Aucklanders’ lives though it was, AT’s decision was conveyed to Auckland’s elected councillors only after it had been announced publicly. A peculiar way to demonstrate Council Control!

That the Chair of the AT Board, Adrienne Young-Cooper, upon learning of Wayne Brown’s landslide victory, thought it best to offer him her resignation, has been taken as a good omen by all those who voted for “Mr Fix-It” in hopes of instant action being taken. It also prompted the immediate question: Will the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, draw a similar message of the need for instant action from the results of the local government elections?

Interviewed by a typically over-excited John Campbell for the Q+A programme’s Local Elections Special on Sunday morning (9/10/22) the newly-elected Mayor of Nelson, National’s Nick Smith, maintained his equanimity in the face of remarks about his political longevity that bordered on the offensive. All of a piece, it would seem, with Campbell’s earlier observation that the Baby Boom generation was refusing to “go quietly”.

Smith took the gratuitous ageism in good part, countering with an observation or two of his own. If the Labour Government was wise, he said, it would interpret the Left’s defeats as evidence of the electorate having had enough of its policies. Identifying the Three Waters project specifically, he warned that it would be permitted to proceed only by a government with a “death wish”.

Ardern’s ministry has just twelve months to prove it is not suicidal.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 10 October 2022.


Patricia said...

I was talking to a dyed in the wool National supporter the other day and the comment to my suggestion that if Labour wanted to get back in next year it should say it would cancel all student debt was ‘Nobody who had repaid their debt would vote for that’. I think that statement says everything about National voter’ views. It is all about me not anybody else.

Shane McDowall said...

Country Calendar watcher, here.

Do watch TV One 6pm news.

Do not listen to Mike Hosking.

The winner of the local body elections was A.P. Athy.

Gary Peters said...

"Ardern’s ministry has just twelve months to prove it is not suicidal."

Not going to happen. Ideology trumps everything, it's just that nobody in government is even remotely aware what their ideology is, apart from jackson and mahuta.

Max Ritchie said...

Too late, the damage is done. The time to modify or, better, withdraw and start again, the 3 Waters schemozzle was a year ago. Death wish if it proceeds and angry Maoris if it doesn’t. Ms Ardern is now learning the definition of “between a rock and a hard place”.

Kat said...

When the new mayor of Christchurch was asked this morning how the new city stadium was going to be paid for he replied "we will be talking with all the other mayors in surrounding districts for financial assistance as this is a stadium for all Canterbury".

When asked if he supported 3 waters he said "no, why should the Christchurch council water assets be reduced to support the smaller councils"........

Jacinda and her administration are on a hiding to nowhere against such backwards attitude.

John Drinnan said...

AN excellent summary Chris. Campbells reaction summed up the dangerou disconnect of the Left and media.. And still the government believes there is n nothing top see here,

Jack Scrivano said...

My guess is that the prime minister will totally reject the very premise of any lesson. And then she will take all necessary steps to ensure that her likeness does not appear in any of the photographs of the carnage that now seems rather likely. I could be wrong, of course. But I doubt that I am.

Anonymous said...

Don't like this much. Shame on you for falling into the facile trap of bunging people into demographics and assuming we are all prey to the advertising man. Some of us take the trouble to find out things and think for ourselves.

DS said...

Dunedin might fit the nationwide trend, but honestly had a different set of issues. Dunedin doesn't really care about Three Waters (of course not. Dogwhistling about Ngai Tahu controlling the water will only elicit a shrug in this part of the world). Instead, what brought Hawkins down was the literal months of road-works driving everyone nuts, combined with the overhaul of George Street. And I say this as someone who voted Hawkins.

(Hawkins would say that this was necessary repairs to neglected infrastructure, and he has a point... but it's just go on so long. And anecdotally, the road-works on my street managed to make the surface of the road worse).

The Barron said...

I'm not sure about lessons for Labour, the surprising thing was the lack of strategy and engagement. The lesson is whether the Party leadership and decision makers deliberately disengaged, lacked the vision to engage or are simply half-arsed in what they do. With Efeso Collins I expected that Labour would use the local body election to test their delivery and bill board systems, and more importantly use this to sign up to the electoral roles the demographic that Collins appealed to. The young Pasifika of South and West Auckland. This would be interacting with Pasifika groups and churches and creating a buzz that Labour is for Pasifika and that Pasifika time at the top table has come. But not to be. Collins was not the party establishment candidate, and there seemed that petulance over political strategy won the day.

The local government elections show that people are not engaged enough in the councils. Because of this, there are few lessons to take. I do not seem a time warp step to the right. Brown is mayor, Council slightly to the left. Throughout the country incumbents fell. Shadbolt because he was considered to old for the job, while Auckland voted on someone older. Any commentator that has discussed left to right shifts have all used the phrase 'the exception being...'.

The nation turnout of 31% gives little direction on three-waters. It was already known there was a percentage that opposed, and that is a cohort which will vote. I think the one take back is that those in favour are not as motivated as those opposed, but that was a known factor.

What I take is that it is becoming harder to suggest that local government have mandates to maintain crucial infrastructure. This leads to two possible ways forward that are not in opposition with each other. A rationalisation as to what functions councils should hold given the lack of mandate. I would suggest that not simply water, but some of the roading (already dependent on Central Government support) and other infrastructure should be looked at. The other area to look at is the sinking lid that has been electoral reform. While many focus on the form of voting (mail), I think we need central government leadership on local council elections all moving from FPP in order to increase the mandate.


swordfish said...

Now, when you say "The Left", Chris, I assume you're referring to the authoritarian top-down Upper-Middle Woke Vanity Project that the two main parties of the "Left" have now become?

Vehicles for an inherently self-interested professional-managerial class, seemingly intent on the Year Zero destruction of all social norms, denial of scientific knowledge & common sense ... seeking to impose their crude, distorted ID Politics fantasy-world on cold, hard reality ... aggressively deploying ostentatious moral posturing to justify core attacks on liberal democracy (indeed, on traditional Social Democracy) & the free expression of ideas … viciously scapegoating poorer, working class & lower middle class pakeha & asians, creating whole new forms of social injustice.

Is that what you mean by the "Left" ?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

As far as I can see, the shift rightward is wasn't nearly as big as conservatives seem to think. Auckland for instance is going to be delicately balanced, and led by a populist who isn't a team player. Good luck with that.
There is an excellent opinion piece in the Guardian about this where the claim is that the shift as a result of local issues not national ones. People want a fixer upper. Good luck with that as well. I suppose time will tell. But a lot of conservatives seem to be counting the chickens already. I'm a little cynical about national elections which tend to go in cycles anyway, so I'm not putting any money on anyone. :)