David Cunliffe badly needs a new stump speech. On Thursday in Whanganui I heard him depress a large and sympathetic audience for ten minutes with tales of national woe, then promise a positive campaign but give no details. It is good to know that a positive campaign is proposed. Labour has promised an economic upgrade; it also needs a communications upgrade, and besides being positive it must be relevant. That could shift the polls.
The policy bones are all there – they’re just not connected in a narrative that relates to voters. Because they are not connected they can’t be repeated, so too much communication is undisciplined and unfocussed, as we saw last week from several players. Focussed and disciplined communications are necessary for voters to have a clear idea of what is on offer, how it relates to them, and why Labour’s alternative is best for them and for the country.
It’s not that people don’t care, more that they don’t know, as Verity Johnson outlined in the Herald on Saturday.
Message relevance is critical; this was key to Labour’s late communication in 2005, described to some extent by Mike Williams in today’s Herald. Relevant communication to non-voters was critical to Labour coming from behind to lead on election day. Don Brash is still crying in the beer about it. And while I’m on 2005, getting Labour’s numbers up is also critical to post-election decisions. The lead party will have first crack at forming a government, and much will depend on the numbers on the day.
Too much of Labour’s communication has been relentlessly negative, coming from what appears to be a pervasive view that “the purpose of opposition is opposition.” That’s fine if your purpose is to stay in opposition; my view is that the purpose of opposition is to get into government as soon as possible. To do that people have to know what is on offer, have a sense of hope and purpose, and that can’t be done with a negative approach.
Finally if Labour is going to run a positive campaign, the its media unit needs to get with the programme. We’ve been getting their feed for several years, and endless series of negative or critical straplines is very off-putting. They also all follow a similar pattern; gripe followed (sometimes) by alternative. I suspect many of them by now don’t even get opened.
Hopefully David Cunliffe will kick-start Labour’s positive campaign
tomorrow today in Christchurch. I can’t wait.