Elections in the Anglosphere

Written By: - Date published: 9:20 pm, May 11th, 2015 - 54 comments
Categories: crosby textor, john key, national, uk politics - Tags: ,

An excellent summary reposted with permission from Dim-Post

“There’s loads of analysis about on the outcome of the election in the UK; most of it is focused on Labour. What went wrong? Did they choose the wrong Miliband brother? Should they return to Blairism? And so on.

Seems to me that one of Labour’s biggest problems – both here and in the UK – is that they’re faced with an opponent that is (a) better resourced than them and (b) uses those resources to make themselves far, far better at politics than their left-wing opponents.

Just after his election victory David Cameron announced that the UK was ‘on the brink of something special’. Key has been promising New Zealand we’re on ‘The cusp of something special’. The messaging is consistently similar. The Conservative Party’s strategy in the UK election was pretty much the same as National’s strategy last year. It’s because they have the same strategic advisers of course – the infamous Crosby/Textor, who are also very active in Australian Federal and state elections.

Which gives their clients a huge advantage. Not only can they deliver data and market-research driven advice, they can trial-run lines and strategies across multiple separate-but-similar electorates, hone the techniques and sell successful ideas on to their other clients – who are all right-wing parties that want to see each other succeed.

Often when something goes wrong for John Key and the media goes ballistic, Key will often ‘talk past’ the media and deliver lines directly to the voters. And it always works. He gets to do that because of a huge wealth of empirical data about how voters react to different issues, gleaned from years of study across these multiple electorates.

Labour and the other opposition parties in these other electorates can’t do that. And it shows. They’re forced to experiment, releasing policies or taking positions on issues on a trial basis. Will the public like it? Do they respond? And if the media reaction is critical then they reverse position. They’re playing a complex game in which they know the desired outcome, but not the actual rules, against opponents who know the rulebook back-to-front as well as all the loopholes.

There are other structural factors at work, of course. But the triumph of empirically based political strategy and messaging is a very big deal that’s getting missed alongside all the chatter about Labour ‘moving to the left, or the center’ etc.”

54 comments on “Elections in the Anglosphere”

  1. mickysavage 1


    One of the aspects of this is generally the Nat’s framing of issues is closer to optimal than Labour’s. This is because they have polled and focus grouped the hell out of issues.

    This really shows at times of crisis. After Dirty Politics and Ponytailgate Key and the nats looked really messy and out of touch and it took a few days for them to work out their lines to counter these issues. Then the consistent message is decided on and they then keep saying these things ad nauseum.

    The superior resources is a big part of this. For the left to improve things it will have to get better resourced.

    • Clemgeopin 1.1

      “After Dirty Politics and Ponytailgate Key and the nats looked really messy and out of touch and it took a few days for them to work out their lines to counter these issues”

      Yes, I was a little surprised that the opposition, including Labour did not pursue those two scandals with enough vigour against Key and his Government. Don’t hear much about those issues now! What is the status so far of the legal actions , if any, for those two sagas?
      Remember how the Nats reacted to Helen on the relatively minor issues if painter gate and speeding car?

      • mickysavage 1.1.1

        First one is still with the police waiting for a response …

        • Bill

          So, thrown into the system of ‘proper channels’ to decay and be lost rather than being hoisted into the public arena. -sigh-

    • mpledger 1.2

      Well Cosby-Textor were to busy with the UK elections to feed them the right lines.

  2. Colonial Rawshark 2

    The professional political left is culturally disconnected from the majority of potential voters. More resourcing will not fix that.

    • mickysavage 2.1

      They do not comprise all of the caucus. Obviously they need guidance from MPs with strong community links and understandings.

      • Colonial Rawshark 2.1.1

        I’m particularly worried about the staffers and advisors. And the List seems to have made things even worse – now there’s a whole class of MPs (the majority of the Labour caucus) who don’t have to engage with ordinary people in ordinary electorates at all. One MP who shall remain nameless was overheard while watching an anti-TPPA rally comprising of several hundred people (a very solid turnout) – he remarked that the people at the protest didn’t reflect the views of middle NZ regarding the TPPA and therefore didn’t really count.

        • felix

          “And the List seems to have made things even worse – now there’s a whole class of MPs (the majority of the Labour caucus) who don’t have to engage with ordinary people in ordinary electorates at all.”

          There are five list MPs in the Labour caucus. I know 2014 wasn’t the best result ever, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t so bad that five is a majority 😉

        • Rosie

          “One MP who shall remain nameless was overheard while watching an anti-TPPA rally comprising of several hundred people (a very solid turnout) – he remarked that the people at the protest didn’t reflect the views of middle NZ regarding the TPPA and therefore didn’t really count.”

          Really? That pisses me off CR. I’m a newish Labour Party member, consider myself belonging to ‘middle NZ’ group (although so incredibly downwardly mobile I’m almost in a heap at the bottom) and attended the anti TPP rally in Wellington awhile ago. A massive and enthusiastic crowd it was too, with over one thousand in attendance. As an aside, Grant Robertson spoke very well, but the poli speech of the day went to Fletcher Tabeteau (sp?) from NZ First.

          I’m not remotely interested in the conflicts and relationships of the caucus, only the future of our country and whether we can have again, anything resembling a decent and fair society. (or is this just a naive hope?)

          I hope shopgirls like me will get listened to. I had the expectation that we would. Am I wrong?

          • felix

            “One MP who shall remain nameless”

            Nameless perhaps, but there aren’t many possibilities. There are only 3 male list MPs in the Labour caucus.

            And I can’t hear those words coming out of Andrew Little’s mouth, which leaves David Parker and Clayton Cosgrove.

            • te reo putake

              One other possibility is that the story is made up. Not by CV, I assume, as he is relaying someone else’s apocrypha.

              • felix

                Made up stories!? On MY internets!!!???

                  • Rosie

                    Oh! Who knows whether it was a truth, untruth or a twisty turny tale at it’s origin. I have no idea, being a newbie.

                    Sweet wee rabbit though.

                    • Colonial Rawshark

                      Yep, it’s 100% true. And look out for the statements from Labour saying that they will withdraw from the TPPA if National signs us up to it. (There aren’t any, and there won’t be any).

                    • Rosie

                      CR. A question was asked by an audience member at a speech that Andrew Little gave, about the LP position on the TPP. I was not reassured by the response.

                      I’ve not been reassured by any responses from the LP on that topic.

                      It won’t stop me from supporting them but I’m not comfortable with the less than enthusiastic opposition to the TPP from Labour.

            • Colonial Rawshark

              felix, you’re damn good with the bread crumbs over list MPs and their numbers 😀

    • Saarbo 2.2

      I think the point is Cv, that these sophisticated Market Research companies can provide huge insight into how us masses think. Refer the attached:http://civicscience.com/ …and an example of the market research for a dairy product http://www.dairyreporter.com/Markets/Marketing-linking-nutritional-drinks-music-sports-politics-effective/?utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=06-May-2015&c=7rP63%2Fvr0kHxdyrGjlNPfNfmlFcgmTdd& .

      The level of detail is incredible, basically they take guesswork and intuition out of the picture.

      I thought Labour use UMR research for this purpose?

      • Colonial Rawshark 2.2.1

        Yes they do. And spend a tonne of money in the process.

        • mickysavage

          And get 5% of the same information?

          • Colonial Rawshark

            From the UK election, the common narrative now is that all the polls were wrong and we need to have an inquiry into why all the polls were wrong. I run with a simpler concept: the polls were all mostly correct within the margin of error – but the analysts and pundits who were interpreting the polls were the ones who fucked up because their perspective (personal hopes and fears) was off. That is where I think NZ Labour is also at now.

            • te reo putake

              Good analysis, CV. The only pollster in the UK who came close to predicting the result correctly was top Tory donor Michael Ashcroft, but as nobody likes him (left or right) , his organisation’s results were mostly ignored. The thing about FPP elections is that a relatively small movement in popularity can quickly lead to a winning momentum. Particularly so in marginal seats.

              And that change can come close to election day, making a mockery of previous polling. I think that’s what’s happened in the UK; voters went with the status quo in the absence of a clear alternative.

      • Ron 2.2.2

        For heavens sake we hardly need any specialised opinion research to ascertain the mind of the average New Zealander. Try just getting out and talking to voters. Spend some time on a phone bank. Cannot remember any of my areas MP’s offering to help with Phone Bank.

    • felix 2.3

      So is the political right, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue.

      • Colonial Rawshark 2.3.1

        It’s not an issue for them because they have enough highly paid advisors who are good at their jobs and who have figured out what the right things to say at the right time are.

        Critically, I also believe that the Right ask better questions of their focus groups than the left does.

  3. Atiawa 3

    The left spends too much time focusing on what it can’t do and not enough effort doing things it is able to.

  4. Bill 4

    Yeah, but…

    The ‘gaming’ of voters can only succeed for as long as voters remain relatively ignorant of ‘what’s what’.

    So the left can either keep on losing the game of gaming, or it can drive something into the arena of public discourse; something that will demand or command the engagement of people who vote.

    That ‘something’ in NZ is AGW.

    • mickysavage 4.1

      Yep. Or the left can concentrate on what it is good at and get activists enthused and talking to people. Face to face discussions can dispel a whole lot of investment in CT.

      • Colonial Rawshark 4.1.1

        There is a little bit of truth there, but it’s also very limited I suspect. Mainly it’s an old Labour assumption based on the campaigning lessons from the 70s, 80s and 90s. In the recent UK election campaign, many pundits noted that Labour had a far superior ground game in marginal seats in terms of door knocking and number of in the streets volunteers, compared to the Tories who had very few.

        And we all know what the election result was.

        • Colonial Rawshark

          I reckon what’s really fucked the effectiveness of the Labour ground game is the wholesale destruction of the unions. This is part of the ahistorical blindspot now effecting NZ Labour. The NZLP used to be able to communicate key policy and political points straight into hundreds of thousands of union households, in the old days. This would effectively circumvent the Tory media (which has been Tory forever). All that is gone now.

          Randomly door knocking on strangers doors, strangers whom you have no connection with, is comparatively ineffective to the breadwinner of the house coming home with notices that were effectively from the Labour Party.

          • Ron

            I agree, unless you are talking to Labour supporters it is a complete waste of time. There has been a move recently in Labour that we should be moving to a system of Street Captains and activists out on streets. Shades of Chicago with their system of street, block captains.
            The people that come up with these ideas are seemingly unaware of how much NZ society has changed in last 40 years. New Zealanders do not welcome anyone knocking on their doors be it church people or political people. Apart from how hard it is to find a time that is suitable to door knock. People now work Saturday and Sundays and many people work longer hours during work week. The last thing they need or want is people at their doors at night or in weekends.
            During the last campaign the only people I found at home during day Saturday and Sundays were people that did not vote and had no interest in discussing politics. We canvassed between 9am – 3pm and achieved very little.

            We would be far better ensuring that we have good candidates that can talk effectively at public meetings etc on media etc and having good policies that reflect the society that votes. I am hoping that Andrew Little will start clearing out the dross currently sitting on the Labour benches.

            It’s not all down hill for political left. Labour (NDP) in Alberta have had a great victory and it should be noted that NDP is now the official opposition in Canada. The Liberals have been relegated to third place since 2011 election.

            Randomly door knocking on strangers doors, strangers whom you have no connection with, is comparatively ineffective to the breadwinner of the house coming home with notices that were effectively from the Labour Party.

      • Bill 4.1.2

        If your activists, when they hit a doorstep, aren’t basically operating in an echo chamber, then your activists are either out of touch or there is nothing for them to be in touch with.

        Activists ‘work’ where they can fill in some detail, offer further perspectives or reinforce broad beliefs that are already held.

        Otherwise, they’re just another gaggle of proselytisers.

    • adam 4.2

      But is that something AGW Bill?

      Because, I had the misfortune of dealing with some american based born-again Christians today. On the whole – I like most born again Christians. However, these americanised Christians see AGW as salvation from all the godless types on this earth. Why? Because it will burn the earth. You know the people who take revelations literally, rather than the code Paul wrote, so some Roman does not put you up on a crucifix or throw you to lions.

      I know many joke about the bubble the rightwing they have created around themselves to ignore rational debate – but that bubble is real. That bubble is scary. That bubble defies belief. And It has really infests americanised born agains, badly as well.

      The burning of the earth as salvation – is in my eyes as far as removed from Christianity as you can get. It feels to me many of these Americanised Christians are in the hands of the deceiver. If we can pull them away from this fatuous theology, we may just save them.

      So I ask other Christians to start to engage – we can’t let a radical disassociated sect or out of control corporations, and their political lackeys, destroy God’s creation.

      • Bill 4.2.1

        But since the born againers would comprise a very small portion of a population and of opinion, so what?

        Put another way, the protestant unionist in Scotland was never going to vote for independence. But the discussion was had and the populace invigorated….with results

        • Colonial Rawshark

          No big deal here in NZ, true. But the US pro-Israel pro-ME wars lobby, Bill, are all fundy Christians (i.e. heretics).

          • Bill

            Many, many protestant unionists in Scotland….more of them per head there than fundies in the US

            And if the debate is being had among the general population (like the referendum in Scotland was) what the fuck have lobby groups got to do with anything?

        • adam

          Small, maybe, we’ll position to be an obstacle – maybe as well. Small sects of christians have been divisive throughout history. I believe these americanised churches are spreading a false gospel which is quite destructive. They appear to be part of orchestrated lack of action on AGW. I know, I know cock up theory – but it’s just too convenient to see this as an end of days event, then try and cloud the issue.

          Look the Pope along with Jesuit scientific community all agree on AGW – Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has called AGW a problem we need to address. Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim leaders are engaged to deal with this issue. I know looney sects abound in all religions – just we live in a dominantly christian community – I just think christians of all colours, need to address AGW – and speak out about radical sects who will cloud and muddle the issues with a fatuous theology.

      • Gosman 4.2.2

        I find the fact you want to ‘save’ born again fundamentalist Christians as very funny.

  5. Sacha 5

    “Labour and the other opposition parties in these other electorates can’t do that.”

    *won’t* do that.
    it’s not the disparity in money that prevents them being better at this.

  6. SHG 6

    Getting the sort of advice that Labour needs isn’t that expensive. It’s more that Labour refuses to listen to it.


    • Gosman 6.1

      The trouble is many left wing people are looking for a silver bullet to solve what they perceive simply to be a matter of perception caused by the combination of a hostile media and PR money from the right. They are unlikely to take the view that they need to understand what the majority of the electorate want.

      • RJL 6.1.1

        As ever you miss the point.

        Most on the left want to win power so that they can implement specific policies because they think these are the correct policies to be implemented.

        Changing policies in order to win power, to what the majority has conditioned itself to “want”, defeats the purpose of being a political party and defeats the purpose of winning power in the first place. This applies to left and right.

        Changing policies to follow the majority only makes sense if you have a core of policies that you don’t change (or perhaps you lie when you say you have changed them) and the point of power is to implement this core. The majority-following-policy is a combination of stuff you don’t care about and dead rats that you half-heartedly swallow to disguise the core.

  7. Michael 7

    Perhaps Labour could look at the New Democratic Party in Canada and the Democratic Party in the US. The NDP, a social-democratic party, just swept to a landslide win the most conservative oil-rich province in Canada, Alberta (which has been Tory-held for 40+ years) pledging environmentalism, tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy, a 50% increase in the minimum wage, increasing oil royalties, banning donations from corporations and unions, and big investments in corporations and the wealthy. And this was in spite of every newspaper in Alberta endorsing the tories. The US Democratic Party has embraced strong social liberalism and economic populism: even Hillary Clinton has come out in favour of abolishing tuition fees (and giving grants for living costs so everyone can graduate debt-free), said things like “businesses don’t create jobs!” and attacked the 1%/big money in politics, and people like Elizabeth Warren have been extremely successful with strong opposition to the TPP, have called for a 60% inheritance tax, etc etc. And both parties have been strong rhetorically on progressive social issues – the NDP is very socially progressive and the Democrats have built a coalition based on immigrants, ethnic minorities, women, LGBT, and young people that is probably going to win them the White House for quite a long time.

    So perhaps the key is to embrace progressive policies and rhetoric. While conservative parties have been struggling in some of the Anglosphere, they’re doing quite well in North America.

  8. Charles 8

    Appealing to greed and selling fear-of-loss makes a party “better at politics”?
    You might have point, historically. All the nastiest moments of the twentieth century were sold as greed (for power or otherwise) and fear-of-loss. It certainly is an effective short-term strategy. Millions were killed as a result, but then people woke up for a few decades and rebuilt the rubble of their cities and society.

    Now we’re busy destroying the gains of that small moment of humanity in an effort to look busy, because we believe busy = virtuous. Any government anywhere could follow the destructive path, it’s easy, as long as they only think of life on Earth in terms of their life-time being the most important. I’d rather not vote for people like that.

    In terms of NZ Labour Party, they are now following the destructive path. National were set up to destroy the gains of collective efforts, so it’s hard to condemn them in that respect – at least they’re honest and true to their founding principles.

    I’d prefer to vote for a party that takes a look at the existing mess, realises no one can go anywhere – except emmigrate – while so many have been excluded and left behind, then ignores the cries of the greed contagion and simply says no, we’re sorting this mess now, and if you lot feel like destroying it in another fit of greed in fifty years then that’s your problem. To hell with what the population thinks it wants. They want everything to themselves, in individual packages, but life doesn’t work like that.

  9. Nic the NZer 9

    “What nonsense am I talking about? Simon Wren-Lewis of the University of Oxford, who has been a tireless but lonely crusader for economic sense, calls it “mediamacro.” It’s a story about Britain that runs like this: First, the Labour government that ruled Britain until 2010 was wildly irresponsible, spending far beyond its means. Second, this fiscal profligacy caused the economic crisis of 2008-2009. Third, this in turn left the coalition that took power in 2010 with no choice except to impose austerity policies despite the depressed state of the economy. Finally, Britain’s return to economic growth in 2013 vindicated austerity and proved its critics wrong.

    Now, every piece of this story is demonstrably, ludicrously wrong. Pre-crisis Britain wasn’t fiscally profligate. Debt and deficits were low, and at the time everyone expected them to stay that way; big deficits only arose as a result of the crisis. The crisis, which was a global phenomenon, was driven by runaway banks and private debt, not government deficits. There was no urgency about austerity: financial markets never showed any concern about British solvency. And Britain, which returned to growth only after a pause in the austerity drive, has made up none of the ground it lost during the coalition’s first two years.” – Paul Krugman (In the NYT)

    Labour needs to stop proposing to impose austerity on the economy at each election (and promising thereby to reach surplus). Every measure leading this is unpopular with genuine left voters, and so promising to impose such measures creates a wedge which runs between Labour and the Green party in NZ, which is what CT exploits and will continue to exploit.

    • Gosman 9.1

      Except noone is really talking about imposing austerity anymore. The debate has moved away to talk about being fiscally responsible. Labour and the SNP combined were made to look like they were potentially fiscally irresponsible (especially the SNP). That is why they lost.

      • Nic the NZer 9.1.1

        Imposing austerity is exactly the same as being ‘fiscally responsible’. The rest of your comment is invalid largely on the basis that it doesn’t differentiate between two independent UK political parties, one of which won (and polled at an all time high) and one of which lost. I can only imagine this was intentional, but your living in a fantasy world of your own construction if you actually believe such nonsense.

  10. Sable 10

    Research in Europe has shown that UK public is one of the least discerning in the region. They have a comparatively high level of trust in the MSM (which given how trashy it is amazing) whilst voters in Greece, for example, have around a 75% distrust of the MSM. I think the figures for UK were around 53% trust for anyone who is interested.

    • Gosman 10.1

      There is a vibrant and free press that reflects the views of a broad section of UK society. For every Sun headline promoting right leaning views there is a Mirror headline promoting a left leaning one. For every anti-European headline in The Daily Mail there is a counter from The Independent and The Guardian. What aspect of the UK press would you want to change given you can find a paper that reflects pretty much all the main political views?

  11. Dean Reynolds 11

    NZ Labour can by pass the Crosby Textor BS if it plays by its own rules. If Labour reconnects with its Social Democratic origins, paints a vision of how a fair, co operative society can operate, points to its own previous successes in bringing this about, shows a way forward that is different to the neo lib mantra, & takes the population with them as it has in the past, then it sidesteps CT, focus groups & all the crap that goes with them. If every NZ Labour MP had the left wing passion of Michael Sheen (as per the current clip on The Standard blog) then they’d be unstoppable.

  12. Nic the NZer 12

    Bill Mitchell (Australian economist) explains what has gone wrong with Labour politics.


    Guess what, its not a lack of Blairism. Many here have drawn the same conclusions.

  13. The Lone Haranguer 13

    After Dirty Politics and Ponytailgate Key and the nats looked really messy and out of touch and it took a few days for them to work out their lines to counter these issues”

    Probably because the two “scandals” were interesting to voters for about as long as a goldfish can remember your name. And its a waste of space to flog it now because
    1) nobody cares and
    2) theres a Royal ginga in town and thats way more interesting to the average? reader of Womans Day magazine.

    I think the point is Cv, that these sophisticated Market Research companies can provide huge insight into how us masses think.

    I just watched a video of MIchael Sheen on another page here at the Standard. Now do you folk really think that he got his passion from market research and took a written speech and practised it once in front of the mirror? The dude was passionate and thats not coming from a bunch of big $$ market research.

    You know, we need politicians who are passionate about stuff that can change this country for good. Not $150,000pa MPs whose passion is their parliamentary salary and the perks that go with it.

    Put those people of passion up front and centre, and the left might win the hearts and minds of the electorate.

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