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Campaigning on policy – what a concept!

Written By: - Date published: 9:55 am, October 28th, 2011 - 27 comments
Categories: election 2011, labour, leadership, Media, phil goff - Tags: ,

Got to hand it to Labour, they have no shortage of guts! The capital gains tax was supposed to be electoral suicide, but in fact Labour’s policy was almost universally well received (except by the incoherent Nats).  Confronting the huge “untouchable” issue of the approaching superannuation crisis is also supposed to be electoral suicide, but Labour have taken it on, see Eddie’s excellent post this morning.  Now if Labour get serious about peak oil and climate change they’ll be the first major political party in this country in living memory to be planning realistically for the future.  What an amazing thing that would be.

Another brave move by Labour is the decision to focus their campaign on policies and issues, rather than the usual cult of the leader.  I think it’s useful to gauge current reactions in the context of what has been said in the past. So here’s a random sample of opinions on “presidential style” campaigns, as reported in The Herald over the years.

Allan Peachy (2002): “National missed the opportunity to make education an issue. The presidential style of the election meant that the real issues were not examined sufficiently and I think the party vote reflected that.”

Austin Mitchell (2002): The election campaign concentrated too much on the main leaders and not enough on issues and policies, visiting British MP Austin Mitchell said today.

Various (2002):Jenni Raynish, public relations consultant, says … “I’d use all of them in different ways and move away from the traditional leadership head-to-head positioning. …
Marco Marinkovich, creative director of advertising agency Creativebank, says … “He needs to bring those people forward. They need to put the National brand ahead of Bill English the leader.” Mr Marinkovich thinks promoting Mary English smacks of a presidential style that New Zealanders mock …

John Roughan (2005): It has become ritual at general elections to rue the “presidential style” of modern politics. Everyone from party tacticians to the last punter will pronounce their regret that the campaign has been concentrated on the party leaders and strayed at times into the realm of – heaven forbid – “personalities”. … Meanwhile, in newsrooms editors resolve to broaden the focus this time.

Garth George (2008): And it’s all about freedom from presidential-style politics. We want – nay, need – to be rid of a dictatorial leader so that consensus politics again has a chance to flourish.

In general there’s an acknowledgement that “presidential style” campaigns are undesirable. And when National didn’t push Don Brash too hard in 2005 the reception was mildly positive:

Editorial (2005) The Labour Party, its eyes on a third term, is putting the emphasis on presidential-style campaigning. In contrast, National will stress the strength of its team.

So what’s the reception now that Labour has once again broken the mould and chosen very clearly to focus on policy?  Claire Trevett and Duncan Garner seem neutral and stick to the facts, as does RNZ.  Bryce Edwards rounds up a lot of commentary, and comments that “it’s a positive step forward (albeit only a tiny one) in the need for robust and meaningful election debate”.  Only John Armstrong, sounding shrill and very much out of step with history, tries his best to spin this as somehow damaging for Labour.

In short then, I think this is another bold (and also realistic!) move by Labour.  As a country we’ve been saying for a long time that elections should be about policies and not personalities.  Now we’ve got a chance to try it.  If the media is up to the challenge, of course.

27 comments on “Campaigning on policy – what a concept! ”

  1. toad 1

    The Greens have always campaigned on policy.  Sadly, little of it gets reported.

    • queenstfarmer 1.1

      True (though probably with some exceptions, to be fair), and they deserve admiration for it, and I think are being rewarded in the polls as a result (even though in my view some of that policy is delusional…)

      Minor parties need to be much more disciplined than the major parties in this regard. The Greens are the benchmark. ACT is a good example of what not to do.

  2. Mac1 2

    Labour should put forward policies which appeal to people’s hearts and also their minds. People, so the political wisdom goes, vote more with their feelings than their intellect. A Presidential-style campaign such as National is presenting is based on feelings about the respective leaders. Therefore, Labour’s presentation needs to be acceptable at an emotional level.

    It is certainly far-sighted way beyond the three year electoral cycle to produce policy around capital gains, superannuation and savings. This might be a product of MMP thinking which should encourage longer-term thinking as coalitions are far more stable than the FPP ‘winner takes all’ short-term advantage thinking that we have seen in NZ politics.

    A new trend, though, in presidential-style popularity a la National is to avoid head to head debating between the two leaders as much as possible. This indicates that National are not sure of the secure nature of this leadership versus policy position. National’s campaign strategists seem to fear that John Key might not fare well in such debates against Phil Goff, threatening the efficacy of National’s focus on leadership and personal popularity.

    A besting of John Key by Phil Goff in debates would leave National with their policy more in focus. National would not fare well with their already announced policy such as that around wages, working conditions and industrial policy. Coupled with National’s economic mismanagement and inability in crisis management, this contrast in political styles makes for an interesting outcome on November 26.

  3. randal 3

    jon keys has gone bananas.

  4. shorts 4

    is it gutsy to treat the electorate as adults?


    *awaits their policy on peak oil* 

    • King Kong 4.1

      I walked past a piece of cringeworthy politcal theatre being performed in Midland Park the other day on the subject of peak oil.
      It wasn’t a total failure as it did force me to ponder some serious questions.

      If you want to become a vociferous promoter of the peak oil doomsday scenarios:

      1) is it compulsory for your parents to be siblings?
      2) Is a lack of personal hygeine compulsory?
      3) Is a total lack of self awareness a must?

      I try not to judge a concept by who is promoting it but I have yet to see a single person who is not totally bat shit crazy pushing this stuff and it makes it very hard to take it seriously.

  5. infused 5

    Well it’s not like they can campaign on anything else…

  6. Peter Martin 6

    ‘Now if Labour get serious about peak oil and climate change they’ll be the first major political party in this country in living memory to be planning realistically for the future. What an amazing thing that would be’

    Sounds like Labour ‘white anting’ Green’s policy…

  7. tsmithfield 7

    “Campaigning on policy – what a concept!”

    I would agree. Except, one shouldn’t bring a pea-shooter to a gun-fight. In this case Labour’s policies involve a complete flip-flop on their previous position on superannuation, and a Kiwisaver policy they themselves acknowledge is likely to repress wages (see page 3), which I am sure will be welcomed by their grass-root supporters (NOT). Sounds pretty much like pea-shooter policy to me.

    • lprent 7.1

      Changing the super and savings policies to cope with the increasing numbers of elderly is not going to be a costless policy. It cannot be done for free. The question is how it gets paid for before it becomes unsustainable to maintain at anything like the current levels.

      So the question is if it gets done through wages via raising taxes or through the wages directly. So I guess you favour raising taxes or cutting superannuation…. Come on – don’t do a JohnKey. Say what you’d do in the real world rather than vaguely wishing that the economy would have some growth….

      This is kind of obvious to anyone who uses their brains.

      • tsmithfield 7.1.1

        So what has happened since since July this year for Goff to change his mind?

        From the article:

        Mr Goff says Labour does not believe raising the age of eligibility is necessary.
        “We think that we can avoid that alternative through the mechanisms that we’ve put in place in the past that the Government has stopped funding – the Cullen Fund – and through a policy that’s not a one-off sale of state assets, but one that will raise tax revenue on an ongoing basis.”

        • r0b

          So what has happened since since July this year for Goff to change his mind?

          Double downgrades of international confidence in our economic future (that mention out superannuation costs as a risk). Doh.

          • queenstfarmer

            That is the purported reason, but I don’t think it will go down well with Labour’s rank and file if they think that Labour put up their retirement age in order to appease foreign financial giants.

            • tsmithfield

              Anyway, there are other options besides raising the age. For instance, means testing superanuation, offering tax free income for those who keep working over the age of 65 etc.

              So, there are a number of ways that Labour could have tackled this without flip-flopping.

  8. tsmithfield 8

    Labour’s kiwisaver policy suggests Labour thinks that NZers are too stupid to make their own investment decisions.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 8.1

      Why do you think Auckland high end property values are up? Wouldn’t have anything to do with tax cuts two years ago would it?

      So essentially giving money to the $80K earners gets wasted on quick fix spending on property and o/s holidays whilst giving money for people to save helps safeguard our future from international lenders.

      Read the Fitch and S&P reports when we got downgraded, they mention this too.

    • Kevin Welsh 8.2

      “Labour’s kiwisaver policy suggests Labour thinks that NZers are too stupid to make their own investment decisions.”

      You been out of the country the last few years smithy?

      I would say that recent history with regards to finance companies and New Zealanders savings history has shown that most kiwis are in fact “too stupid” to make their own INVESTMENT decisions.

      I have put investment in caps because there seems to be a dire lack of investment. New Zealanders seem to prefer speculation. Big difference.

  9. Stephen Franks seems to like personality politics over discussion of policy.

    I can see his argument, though I think he painted himself in this corner in the run up to the 2008 election and doesn’t seem to realise how it would play out this time … given the ‘personalities’ on the right (Key, Brash, Banks …).

  10. burt 10

    Interesting article on raising the age or retirement;

    Stuff: Pension change ‘too late for boomers’

    A professor specialising in demographics has weighed in on the debate on raising the retirement age, saying it would be brought in too late to affect baby boomers.

    Waikato University professor Natalie Jackson recently published a paper addressing the drivers of population ageing and its consequences on education, the labour market and governments.

    She has poured cold water on Labour’s announcement that if elected it would increase the pension age from 65 to 67 by 2033.

    ”The official baby boomer population, born between 1946 and 1965, will all be in the retirement ages by then, or at least 67 to 87 years of age. So it won’t do anything at all to resolve the impact of the baby boomer wave,” Jackson said.

    ”It will actually make things harder for those who will then be approaching 67, and whose taxes will have been stretched to pay for the boomers.”

    It’s hard to imagine that Labour’s policy analysts missed this reality… If they did then how well researched is Labour’s policy.

    • Draco T Bastard 10.1

      An ageing bulge

      According to that NZ will start hitting the peak of the age wave about 2031. As Labour’s plan is to slowly increase the age over time I suspect that it’d catch more than what that rather short and apparently incorrect analysis says it will.

      • burt 10.1.1

        A professor specialising in demographics…

        But Draco knows better….

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          Don’t be daft. It’s not rocket science. For a start, Prof Jackson talks about “the official baby boomer generation”, whereas Draco points to Statistics NZ’s projections, which take into account a few more metrics than a 50-year old spike in the birthrate – like people are living longer for example.
          So yeah, Draco debunked the professor’s argument pretty well there I think.

          • burt

            I’ll take a Professor in demographics analysis over Draco’s opinion from a single graph thanks.

            • One Anonymous Bloke

              Then you’re an idiot. Prof Jackson is clear about the figure’s he’s using and they are limited to his definition of “the official baby boom generation”.

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