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.