National will not win by running on its rightwing principles and policy. For 20 years, New Zealanders have consistently said they do not want to sell public assets, they do not want weaker employment law, they do not want tax cuts at the cost of public service cuts, and they like government assistance like Kiwisaver and Working for Families. This, National has already realised. Given that, the strategy becomes obvious and it is the one that National has run.
Eliminate ‘scary’ perceptions by adopting all the Government’s policies, except those that go to the heart of why National is a party the employment relationship. There’s no point for business having a National Party if they’re going to start standing for better wages and workers’ rights. But adopt everything else. This will mean flip-flops; do them sharply and brazenly. If possible, pretend your new position has always been your position.
Don’t risk scaring away votes with significant differentiating policies. In fact, try to neutralise the question of what you would do with power as a campaign issue altogether. Having Key as leader helps here: he doesn’t have the rightwing record Brash and other senior National MPs have, he comes across like a nice guy, and he genuinely doesn’t care about National’s principles; he cares about winning.
Attack, attack attack. It doesn’t matter what the topic is nor how valid the attack, just make it. Find some good labels: ‘tired’, ‘corrupt’. Focus group and roll out a new attack phrase every few weeks to be repeated at every opportunity by every MP and ally (eg. ‘they’re just making personal attacks while the economy burns’). Keep everyone on message; repeat something enough and repeat it consistently and it becomes accepted fact. Keep the focus on Key, and keep him as the ‘clean man’ (leave the nasty stuff to Power, Ryall, the Smiths, and English). Don’t have Key speak in public too often: the more he speaks the more likely he is to say something seriously off message that will be costly.
The downside of this is, once elected, National will not have a public mandate to do anything. But that’s OK. The priority now is stop the creep to the left. Play it cool. Win this election and wait for the second term to starting moving right.
Your opponents have nine years of baggage and a bored media against them. This should be easy. Play it cool, don’t scare the horses, keep on smiling, and it’s in the bag.