Written By: - Date published: 10:16 am, September 26th, 2013 - 48 comments
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John Key and his handlers have tried so hard to distance himself from the underhand dirty tricks employed by National Party people to undermine opposition parties. They were used relentlessly to undermine Helen Clark, but, once in power and having achieved dominance in the popularity polls, the government has focused more on it’s positive public image. Now that Cunliffe’s Labour is in the ascendance, and a Labour-Green government is a real possibility next year, once more we are seeing the NAct and/supporters pull out their bag of dirty tricks.
The kinds of strategies used, with significant input from expensive political advisers like those at Crosby Textor, are exposed exposed in Nicky Hagar’s book The Hollow Men (2006).
In his review of the book, Wayne Hope, associate professor in communication studies at Auckland University of Technology, said this:
Hager’s general thesis can be outlined as follows: With the replacement of Bill English by Don Brash, National became an anti-democratic political party which set out to deceive the voting public. Wealthy corporate elites associated with the Business Round Table, the far right ACT party, the Centre for Independent Studies and various public relations ﬁrms supported Brash’s seizure of power and anonymously donated substantial sums to National’s campaign war chest. They wanted a new government with the power to institute market driven policies in the areas of labour relations, state owned enterprises, education, transport, accident compensation and local body government tax cut package.
Throughout 2004 and 2005, Brash’s strategists (Murray McCully, Gerry Brownlee, Steven Joyce, Richard Long, Matthew Hooton, Peter Keenan and Bryan Sinclair) employed market research companies, advertising specialists, public relations ﬁrms, media managers and television trainers to sell the National brand.
My bold: Scarily, while John Key was not centrally implicated in the underhand tactics of the Hollow Men, the pro-corporate, anti-democratic, market-driven policies favoured by the Hollow Men’s backers have steadily been brought in by Key’s government.
Now we have a new smear campaign launched against Cunliffe, lead pretty clumsily by Hollowman Matthew Hooton, with Judith Collins joining forces with a dodgy right wing blogger to cheer-lead Hooton’s efforts. Collins has previously been implicated with Brash’s Hollow Men, as indicated in Danyl Mclauchlan’s post about the book, and in a Fran O’Sullivan article of 2009, about Brash’s attempts to get the police to pursue enquiries into how Hagar got access to his emails:
Collins was Brash’s close political chum during the dying days of his leadership when it seemed as if he might just survive.
For an outsider like myself, it’s hard to know who is involved in the latest dirty tactics in which Hooton has been involved. But there are some intriguing connections on the public record.
In the Hollow Men, Hagar pointed to Crosby Textor as being the main overseas consultants used by Brash, and later it became known that John Key was also using this company for strategic advice. Wayne Hope again:
… Hager details compellingly how the Australian based market researchers Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor translated the insecurities of uncommitted voters into loaded messages; politically correct Labour—mainstream National.
In a 2008 blog post, Hagar identifies Mark Textor as being John Key’s main CT adviser. Curiously, this post is also pretty damning about Hollow Man Matthew Hooton:
Anyone who wonders what to make of Matthew Hooton’s public contributions to New Zealand politics really should read what he writes in private. His advice is sometimes clever, but it is also cynical. It is very revealing.
For this sort of PR person, the answer when faced with a crisis is to attack the messenger, deny everything and claim that they themselves are the victims in the affair. Like an octopus squirting ink into the water, the hope is that these diversions will allow them to escape unscathed. In this world of spin, words, arguments and personal attacks are all just means to an end, tools to advance their and their clients’ objectives.
A Stuff, Fairfax news article of 2008, also outlines some of the strategies of Crosby Textor (and there are probably more that we have yet to see in the lead up to NZ’s 2014 elections). It claims Key has continued to use the same adviser as Brash, Mark Textor., but that it has been kept secret from the public. The reason for secrecy is that, if their tactics and manipulations become widely known, they will be less effective.
It also shows how the NAct parties aim to benefit from having access to wealthier backers than is the case for more left leaning parties.
Specialised Crosby/Textor researchers visit New Zealand to conduct the research (costing about $10,000 per visit) and Textor flies to New Zealand, as required, to provide “high-level strategic advice” to Key and his staff on what Key should be saying and doing in public (also about $10,000 per visit). He also advises by phone and email. Key’s parliamentary staff saw Textor visiting his office around April 27, 2007, for instance, and it has all continued up to the present, including a visit in recent weeks.
The article points to ways that Crosby-Textors’ dirty, “and ruthless attack politics” tactics, “using subtle appeals to fear and prejudice” have been controversial in Australia. This includes push polling, and the kind of tactics used when working for the UK Conservative Party and for the London mayoral campaigns of Boris Johnson.
Awareness of the kinds of strategies used by Crosby-Textor will be helpful in countering Nact’s dirty tricks in the run up to next year’s NZ election. The 2008, Stuff article point to 3 main ones used in Boris Johnson’s campaigns.
First, Crosby and Textor realised there was a high risk of Johnson tripping up and making mistakes compared with his experienced opponent. Their answer was to tightly control and script all Johnson’s public appearances
The second strand of the London mayoralty strategy was relentlessly attacking Livingstone’s reputation. He had introduced some innovative and popular policies, so they concentrated on personal attacks.
The third strand was “issue management”. They found Livingstone had support on environment, social services and other issues. So instead they ran a narrowly focussed campaign on the rising cost of living and public safety even where these were the result of forces beyond Livingstone’s control.
The indications are that John Key will be getting advice from Mark Textor in the run up to the 2014 elections. Intriguing that Key was cosily photo oped with Textor’s high profile client in his recent visit to England.
Knowledge is power.