The cost of Crosby/Textor

Written By: - Date published: 10:06 am, June 30th, 2008 - 58 comments
Categories: election 2008, john key, slippery - Tags: ,

So Crosby/Textor has been designing Brand Key from Day 1, isn’t this just what every party does? No, it isn’t – Crosby/Textor uses a particularly undemocratic, nasty form of political marketing (more on that in later posts) and the extent to which National uses Crosby/Textor is simply beyond the financial means of any other party.

Consider this. Crosby/Textor was hired to create the image of Brand Key that we now hear repeated mindlessly in the media (he’s a nice guy, he’s a consensus builder) and make Brand Key the entire basis of debate on National’s re-election campaign back in November 2006. Since then, there have been monthly visits from Textor or other C/T advisors at the cost of $10K per visit (you can tell when they’ve happened, Key has a new line to repeat ad nauseam and speaks more coherently for the next few weeks as he repeats his lines). That’s $200K right there.

Then there’s focus-grouping. The C/T lines that you hear Key repeat come straight from focus grouping. A small focus group run costs $30K and is pretty ineffective, which is why Labour hasn’t done one since December. A decent round of focus groups would cost $50K+ and C/T is conducting them monthly for National’s lines. Already, we’re talking the think end of a million dollars spent by National on Crosby/Textor. No other party can afford to spend a fraction of that amount because they don’t have the large (until now secret) donors.

A political party does not resort to C/T’s expensive, scummy, disrespectful strategy if it can win honestly because, ultimately, C/T politics is very destructive, both for democracy based on an informed populace and for the party that uses it – they end up unprincipled, baseless, a shell of a party with no heart.

But National knows it cannot win on its policies, or its record or the competence of its people. So, unique among New Zealand parties, it is shelling out a fortune for foreign advisors to develop a strategy to pull the wool over voters’ eyes.

58 comments on “The cost of Crosby/Textor ”

  1. Monty 1

    So Labour will not indulge in dirty politics? I think National are fighting fire with fire. To date we have really seen labour throwing dirt. To be quite honest, I cannot see the problem with the Nats selecting CT to advise them. It is winning that counts, and as Labour have shown they will do absolutely anything to win – Just wait a little while and you will see the hounds being released. Clark has no moral compass when it comes to winning, and she leads by example. To see he smirking away as Mallard went on the attack with Brash and then play all innocent with a ” ha ha thats Trevor” is a disgrace.

    So try and beat up this story – but really no one cares and no one is listening – I am not even sure if it was on the news last night. This is nothing more than Labour desperate for a beat up story rather than facing the real issues out there such as the economy in recession, interest rates high, mortgages being defaulted, 23 finance companies falling over, and the electricity crisis. The left have now become so sad and desperate I wonder what your next sad and pathetic story on John key will be.

  2. We’ll have more on the specific tactics C/T uses in later posts but suffice to say they’re the ones we’ve been discussing for weeks –

    The hit and run, the bait and switch, the cake and eat it, the shoot the messenger, the misdirection, the dog-whistle, wedge politics – these are all elements of the classic Crosby Textor strategy.

    They’re nasty tactics not in that they are negative or personal but because they seek to undermine the principle of an informed citizenry. Rather than engage in substantive debate, they seek to turn politics into a campaign by a personality-driven party solely on what a nice guy the leader is. There is no attempt to educate the population, show them that you have the best policies, no, C/T tries to make democracy dumber, and that is dangerous.

  3. Monty you tard – National/CT have been throwing the dirt since 2005. As I recall the 2005 advertising campaign for Labour was all about how good Labour has been for NZ and how well the country is doing while the Nats ampaign was IWI/KIWI and Taxathon. I think I know who is fighting fire with fire.

    As for your list of issues? I’d like to see all of that getting debated but you and I both know there’s no way that’s happening while Key is running the CT strategy of avoiding tough interviews and not releasing policy. Here’s a thought mate – if you want to have those debates go and get National’s policies and come back here to argue them. Oh that’s right – you can’t. Suck it up.

  4. gobsmacked 4

    “I am not even sure if it was on the news last night.”

    So that’s a landslide for the Promos, Puff-Pieces And Pets Party then …

    Monty = Homer Simpson?

  5. Vanilla Eis 5

    Monty:

    1) Recession sucks balls, but check out the rest of the world, yes? If you want to blame Labour for the recession, give them credit for the economic growth we’ve been experiencing recently. Otherwise, accept that everyone is affected by the current global economic climate and climb off your high horse. National haven’t said they’d do anything different or better.

    2) Interest rates: Yep, also suck balls. But you can either control inflation or you can control interest rates. You’d be pissing and moaning about whatever one was being used to clobber the other. National haven’t said they’d do anything different or better.

    3) Mortgage defaults can largely be attributed to a poorly regulated banking sector that is willing to make huge loans with little or no deposit. Coupled with the high interest rates, of course people are going to be in difficulty. Solution: Regulate the banking sector, ensuring at least a 10% deposit on all mortgages. Don’t allow people to fully re-mortgage a freehold home. National haven’t said they’d do anything different or better.

    4) Finance companies? Goes back to regulation. They make risky loans hoping for a high payoff. Those loans default, investors lose money. Want to fix it? Regulate. I’m sure the nats would have a field-day what with the ‘interfering nanny-state’ line and all. National haven’t said they’d do anything different or better.

    5) What energy crisis? Are you having cold showers? Come crying when there are brownouts. Currently I haven’t heard of powercuts anywhere, or any likely cuts. National haven’t said they’d do anything different or better.

    Summary: Everything you moan about, National can’t or won’t fix. Come back when they’ve released policy showing how they can fix all your worldly worries.

  6. gobsmacked 6

    It only matters if it’s on TV?

    Getting there …

    http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/536641/1880843

  7. Lew 7

    While I don’t disapprove of National’s hiring of C/T explicitly – hell, let ’em spend their millions how they like – I do think the `cost’ in the title of Steve’s poste here is the wrong one, focussing on the monetary value of services. The other sense of cost is what happens to the electorate if this sparks an arms race of sorts, a sort of my PR company can beat up your PR company sort of thing.

    There has been a lot of discussion on here these past couple of days about the deleterious effect of `making democracy dumber’ as Steve so succinctly puts it. I’m in two minds about this, believing as I do both in the innately self-serving nature of political organisations (the nature which means both Labour and National will do what it takes to win) and in the innate gullibility of people which means they’ll swallow it hook, line and sinker if given half a good reason to do so. Politics is a complicated business, and the art of political communication is in boiling it down to essentialities which people can understand, care about and remember, and in this regard the involvement of high-level spin in politics is to my mind inevitable.

    I think many on the Standard (yeah, ‘Sod, I’m looking at you) presume that because I think it’s inevitable, I think it’s good. I don’t. But ultimately whether things go that way isn’t my choice or anyone else’s – it’s the electorate’s. By voting for National this coming election people will (unless National repudiates them) be voting for Crosby/Textor’s influence on NZ politics becoming entrenched, because to unseat a National government in 2011, the opposition will very likely have to resort to the same sorts of strategies. I think the full possible extent of this needs to be made clear to the voting public and to the media so they can decide whether they really want it.

    L

  8. mike 8

    You get what you pay for eh Steve.

    I’m sure Brian Edwards was just fine at teaching HC how to avoid answering awkward questions but these guys have just raised the bar.

    It’s the way it is all over the world get used to it- just like petrol prices, the credit cruch, etc etc

    [we should just accept the dumbing down of democracy, so that party’s rule not by the informed consent of their citizens but because they could fool enough of the people enough of the time? No thanks. SP]

  9. ak 9

    I’d say there’s a lot more pus to seep out yet.

    It’s just inconceivable that the misogynistic anti-Clark filth swilling about could have arisen and festered without some deliberate organisation.

    It’s almost surreal: last week at a church meeting here a couple of elderly pillars started in with the usual demonisations and I ‘d finally had enough and gently enquired: “What exactly has she done? Why do you hate her so much?”

    Stunned mullets: guess I’m on the hate-session list now.

    John Key has sat long enough like a teflon-coated kitten atop a putrid mass of excrement: it’s high time the public got a good look at his base and its creators.

  10. Lew – don’t be looking at me. I don’t think you like it I just don’t think you understand it, or how to deal with it, properly…

  11. RedLogix 11

    It’s the way it is all over the world get used to it-

    Now there is a justification with exceedingly wide application. Any more of these gems where this one came from Mike?

    Lew. I do appreciated where you are coming from, but we don’t have to wait several electoral cycles to see where it all leads to… all we are doing is trailing the US political model by a decade or so.

    I’ve learnt the hard way that you know far more about symbolic politics and propaganda than I do. So as the Sod puts it… how do we deal with it?

  12. Lew… yeah that’s why I chose that title. The real cost of C/T politics is not monetary, it’s to National as a political party and to democracy in New Zealand.

    I disagree when you say Labour will do what it takes to win. It won’t play politics as all smiling face, no policy, and flip-flops for votes because Labour is not a conservative party, it wants to win power as a mandate for change – there’s no point governing if you can’t make those changes, the conservatives behind national just want to maintain the status quo as much as possible.

    Of course, there’s always a balance for any party between using strategies that win votes and keeping true to your principles – but for National that balance is tipped heavily towards doing whatever it takes to win – 9 years in opposition, a philospohy that is ‘anti-change’ at its heart, and a leader with no political principles all help.

  13. mike 13

    “Now there is a justification with exceedingly wide application. Any more of these gems where this one came from Mike?”

    It was a jab at the lefts argument that all of NZ’s issues are global ones. Obviously to subtle for you.

  14. Blar 14

    Steve you pig-fcuking tard (these seem to be permissible insults around here), stop telling lies.

    It is a matter of public record that Labour is currently conducting focus groups and using them to test lines of attack against John Key, as was reported on NTN last week. They even have a round coming up in July organised by their foreign owned pollsters.

    Unlike Labour, National doesn’t have hundreds of Ministerial staffers to do their bidding. Since coming in to Government, Labour have greatly increased the number of political and communications staff employed by MinServ. It doesn’t have people like Anthony Rhodes, Chris Elder or Andrew Kirton employed en masse.

    Unlike Labour, National doesn’t have an increasingly politicised public service to do it’s bidding. Unlike Labour, National hasn’t rorted the public purse to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund their own campaigns.

    Instead, National has opted to use some of the money tens of thousands of hard-working Kiwis give to them in membership subs every year in order to engage professional advice – much in the same way Labour paid for fashion advice for Helen Clark, or in the same way Labour sends tens of thousands of dollars offshore every year to it’s foreign owned pollsters.

    It may well be the case that National spends more but that’s because they have far more members than Labour – I think eight/ten to one at last count. Tens of thousands of ordinary Kiwis are prepared to back National with ten or twenty dollar subs while only a negligble amount are prepared to do the same to Labour. Perhaps you guys should consider that before you go after this non-story again.

  15. Mike,

    If you took the trouble of reading a few foreign newspapers you would know that a lot of our troubles, not labour, our troubles, are indeed caused by big unregulated banking speculators who drive up the prices of food and oil world wide.

    You really take down the average intelligence here by a couple of points with your moronic baiting.

  16. And the problem is What ???

    cant he hire who he likes ?

    maybe if he hired a useless PR company the story would be different !!!

    Get used to it boys and girls the govt gravy train is OVER come Nov and u lot will have to go and get a real job (whoops thats right u stuffed the economy so there are none oh well off the Aussie then)

  17. Steve: “No other party can afford to spend a fraction of that amount because they don’t have”

    Would you care to comment in that case on this post linked to thjis morning by your friend & ours: Cactus Kate ?

    Labour Properties, with the exception of one. The numbers are:
    Fraser Body House $4,000,000
    7 Fulton Crescent $330,000
    1/332 Massey Road $416,000
    300 Great North Road $470,000
    Palmerston North $203,000
    Domain Avenue $105,000
    4 Regent Road Dunedin $440,000
    203 Warrant Street North$223,000
    651 Ferry Road ChCh $130,000
    1 Pharazyn Street $240,000
    Total $6,557,000″

    [Are you saying that selling capital would fund higher operating funding for Labour? Is this the kind of economics we get on interest.co.nz? Over a 90 year history, Labour has built up a few assets that it uses. If Labour sold those properties it would have to pay money for rents. SP]

  18. lprent 18

    By voting for National this coming election people will (unless National repudiates them) be voting for Crosby/Textor’s influence on NZ politics becoming entrenched, because to unseat a National government in 2011, the opposition will very likely have to resort to the same sorts of strategies.

    I know – that is what I’m worried about. Particularly when I find I’m starting to think that way in deciding what I do now for the 2011 election.

    captcha: breakfast Invasion
    Thats just cool…

  19. randal 19

    well if National had a policy we could discuss that but as crosby textor have advidsed them to say nothing then this is what you get

  20. Matthew Pilott 20

    Blar, you forgot the “TM” after “Hard Working Kiwis”, and “increasingly politicised public sevice”. Copyright violation there son, you better apologise quick smart to Key’s mates across the ditch or you’ll be in big trouble.

    P.S you might want to learn with that pig-fucking thing is about. When you use it out of context or with no understanding as to its meaning, you just look like a kiwiblog-troll.

    P.P.S if you’re going to call someone a liar, you’d do well to provide eviudence of said lies. All your pathetic post did was to highlight the common approach from your mates – sad bit of misdirection though, there are a few too many holes there. C/T would give you an F.

  21. Blar 21

    “Monty you tard – National/CT have been throwing the dirt since 2005. As I recall the 2005 advertising campaign for Labour was all about how good Labour has been for NZ and how well the country is doing”

    Bro – do you not recall the pamphlets about Don Brash’s dietary habits? Or the “flip-flop-o-matic”? Or http://www.gonebylunchtime.com? Or http://www.twyford.org.nz/resources/0800donbrash.mp3 that phone line set up by Young Labour?

    How about the cartoons on Mahara Okeroa’s website implying Don Brash was a proponent of genocide? Or Michael Cullen’s Congress speech where he said Brash dreamed of a New Zealand without Maori? How about Trevor Mallard’s unsubstantiated claim that National was controlled by “American Bagmen”? What about Pete Hodgson’s unsubstantiated allegation that C|T had engaged in push polling?

    What about the letters sent to HNZ tenants telling them they would be evicted if National won, and the impact this stress had on the health of some?

    Ignore those little things and it was a super positive campaign bro!

  22. r0b 22

    John Key has sat long enough like a teflon-coated kitten atop a putrid mass of excrement: it’s high time the public got a good look at his base and its creator

    Thanks for that image ak – how am I going to enjoy my lunch now?

  23. Blar 23

    I understand the meaning in reference to LBJ but yeah, I just wanted to say Steve Pierson has a pig fetish.

  24. Blar 24

    P.P.S if you?re going to call someone a liar, you?d do well to provide eviudence of said lies. All your pathetic post did was to highlight the common approach from your mates – sad bit of misdirection though, there are a few too many holes there. C/T would give you an F.

    Steve claimed Labour had not done any focus grouping since December. It is a matter of public record that Labour have been conducting focus groups this year to test lines of attack against John Key.

    Steve lied. I called him a liar. There is evidence of said lies, bro. Time to put the reading glasses on.

  25. lprent 25

    Blar:

    It is a matter of public record that Labour is currently conducting focus groups and using them to test lines of attack against John Key, as was reported on NTN last week.

    If you’ve observed the site to discover the ‘sods pig joke/example (I’m sure someone will point you to the link), then you also know that you should really have a link there. For instance I have absolutely no idea what NTN is.

  26. r0b 26

    Labour have shown they will do absolutely anything to win

    This is false.

    After the ’96 election National and Labour were looked in a bidding war for Winston’s blessing (as “kingmaker” the party he aligned with would lead the government).

    Labour would not offer Winston the role of Treasurer. They would not do “absolutely anything to win”.

    National offered Winston what he wanted. It was they who sold themselves out, doing whatever it took to win. Plus ca change.

  27. So rOb, Helen Clark didn’t offer Winston “what he wanted” in 2005? Or are you trying to rewrite history?

  28. roger nome 28

    ahh crosby-textor, using deceptive campaigns to exploit prejudiced fears for since John Howard’s “boat people” incident, and probably well before. Vote for National if you want politics in NZ to become about racism and ignorant political discourse aimed at convincing people that the interests of the super-rich are also theirs. The National Party disgust me.

    As campaign manager and chief pollster to John Howard in five Australian elections, Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor gained a reputation for employing ruthless attack politics against their opponents and using subtle appeals to fear and prejudice to win over “soft” voters. They managed the 2001 election campaign where Howard claimed, incorrectly, that refugees on the ship Tampa had thrown their babies overboard to blackmail their way into Australia, followed by full-page ads saying “We will decide who comes into this country”.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/marlboroughexpress/4601215a6422.html

  29. Blar 29

    Nine to Noon with Kathryn Ryan, in the politics segment with Laila Harre – download it here feed://www.radionz.co.nz/podcasts/ninetonoon.rss

  30. r0b 30

    So rOb, Helen Clark didn’t offer Winston “what he wanted’ in 2005? Or are you trying to rewrite history?

    Clark had options for putting together a government in 2005, Winston was not essential.

    The ’96 election is unique. It is the only time we have seen a direct and simple bidding war for government. It is absolutely the clearest test of which party would do “anything” for power.

    National “won” the bidding war. Like an episode of Fear Factor, they swallowed the biggest rat. Good for them eh?

  31. vto 31

    Has labour never ever done anything like the sort of things that national gets accused of? Nothing slippery? Nothing cancerous or corrosive or hateful or wreckaging?

    The complete and total hypocrisy of this site renders many of the posts here quite a waste of time. imo.

  32. polaris 32

    Clinton you are so amusing.

  33. RedLogix 33

    Blar,

    And in it Matthew Hooten attempted a whole range of dishonest tactics.

    1. Leads with a classic misdirection using the ‘stolen emails’ distraction.

    2. ‘Attacks the messenger’ with the ‘conspiracy theory’ smear on Hagar.

    3. Extensively talks over both Harre and Ryan to shut them down.

    4. Lots of ‘hit and run’, makes attacks with no justification, and then moves on. It got so bad at one point Ryan had to tell him to stop it.

    5. Utilises the particuarly nasty method of creating confusion by accusing Hagar of dog whistling in his article. Bullies are notorious for this; when confronted with their behaviour they turn the tables on their victims by falsely claiming that THEY are the victims of lies and attacks.

    6. And so many examples of disinformation that I can’t be arsed listing them all.

  34. James Kearney 34

    Bryan there’s a difference between owning assets (many held by branches) and having money to burn on PR and focus groups.

    Oh and Blar- good to see The Hive is sticking to its claims of non-partisanship. Your comments reveal you and your blog as National partisans. A pity you had to let that little doozie slip yesterday.

  35. James Kearney 35

    Oh and mate- Laila Harre? That’s your source for what’s going on in the left??? What a punter.

  36. Matthew Pilott 36

    vto, that just shows the difference between the two – if you can afford to (financially, and morally) recruit such people as C/T you’d never make the mistake of making a statement such as those you’ve quoted. Nice attempt at misdirection, though, not to mention some messenger-shooting. Now, why does that sound like a familiar theme…?

  37. lprent 37

    Oh cool Blah is adding to my list of satire sites. I’d forgotten about those ones.

    Brash eating habits? That one I missed.

    You have to say that at least all of these have been very up-front. Now if we start looking at some of these bloody nasty whisper campaigns from the right….

    What about the letters sent to HNZ tenants telling them they would be evicted if National won, and the impact this stress had on the health of some?

    That is an outright lie. I saw the letter – all it did was point out nationals housing policy at the time. Coming to think of it, what is their housing policy this time? Same as 2005?

    Ummm, it looks like the Nat’s are a bit sensitive in this area. Time to poke some more?

  38. Blar 38

    Lynn, just refresh my memory. Did the letter have the words EVICTION NOTICE, in bold, printed in red on each of the letters?

  39. randal 39

    thats two slices of corn beef for me and half a slice of baloney for you

  40. randal 40

    well the brash formula goes something like thats two slices of corn beef for me and half a slice of baloney for you

  41. lprent 41

    Blar: Yes it did.

    The reader digest thing I got last week in the mail said that I’d won a million dollars. I always get fascinated by the faded “closing down sale” notices in shop windows. Bosco sends me letters saying my power is about to be cut off 14 days after their bill (when I pay bills monthly).

    You point is what? That there should be more and better restrictions on advertising? Perhaps that should be added in the amendments to the EFA and consumer acts.

    BTW: Are you going to update your posts at your site, or should I remove from the blogroll? Last one was May.

  42. djp 42

    I thought I was big on conspiracy theory’s but these so called “whisper campaigns” seem to have as much credence as the magical pink unicorn I saw the other day (only I can see it, it is invisible to everyone else.. see that proves it is magical!). The only place I ever hear about these whisper campaigns is on websites like this one.

    I heard Nicky Hagar this morning on the radio, the interviewer asked him if he could name a specific example of Keys “negative campaigning” and he conjured up something about nebulous rumours swirling around the country.. in other words. No. He could not come up with any specific examples of negative campaigning.

  43. djp 43

    lprent I thought you were smarter then that.. his point is that labour used scare tactics.. you know those nasty things that C/T use

  44. Blar 44

    Delete.

    The point is it was a nasty, dirty trick that caused a great deal of stress to tenants, some of whom were elderly or sick. In my mind, that was not the sort of positive campaign Sod said Labour ran. Would you disagree?

  45. Blar 45

    Also, you get Reader’s Digest? Faaaaaark bro.

  46. lprent 46

    All campaigns use publicity tactics to some degree. The question is to what degree. After all there is political disagreement about policy. A core part of that is to make sure that the implications of policy are available for people to read.

    In the HNZ case, I seem to remember that the national policy was to go back to market related rents. The labour policy was to have income related rents. The difference between the two would have have forced people on low incomes like, for instance, pensioners to be unable to pay for their accommodation.

    Are you telling me that key difference between policies should not have been publicised by Labour?

    Now to take an example of real scare tactics – read Espiners piece Reality bites for ‘smacking’ petition on the stats for crimes related to the old s59 of the crimes act. Hey the repeal of s59 did not make the sky fall in.

    Now would you like me to dig around about what was said about that bit of legislation from the Green’s?

    Or for instance the Tampa episode. Or for instance the push polling in rural electorates in 2005. Or…

  47. lprent 47

    Nah I don’t – but for some reason I’m on a list. At least Wayne Mapp has stopped e-mailing me. Persistent buggers these marketing people.

  48. Lew 48

    djp: Yeah, I agree, Hager was weak on the wireless this morning – when asked to actually substantiate the effect this has supposedly had on National’s campaigning since 2006, he couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t make him sound like a somewhat wishy-washy conspiracy theorist. That’s fine for people who want to believe him, but that’s not to whom he was talking. Therese Arseneau had it right when she said it’s not a good indication, but Key and National must be judged on the content of their campaign rather than its creators.

    L

  49. bill brown 49

    I thought he wanted to say Wishart but didn’t want to give him the publicity.

  50. Lew. The whole point is that a Nat campaign will have no content. Therese was repeating the same lines C/T has been trying to get into people’s heads for the last year and a half. She even said Key sees nice and he’s a concensus builder for god’s sake.

  51. Lew 51

    SP: If there’s no content, criticise that. You seem to be implying she’s a National hack, which I don’t buy – but be that as it may, she’s right. In the court of public opinion you can’t bag a party for what one of their contractors have done before – each situation needs to be judged on its merits.

    L

  52. I’m not saying she’s a hack, i’m saying she’s a crappy analyst because she’s parroting lines… in her role you shold see those things for what they are, not internalise them.

    And you know that we criticise National’s hollowness all the time. Exposing why they are doing it, and who is advsing them to do it, is part and parcel of that.

  53. Lew 53

    SP: I certainly didn’t mean to imply you aren’t criticising National’s lack of substance.

    I figure Arseneau’s point, and what I think, is that if Hager’s thesis that C/T are up to their old dirty tricks again is correct, we’ll begin to see the symbolic fruits of this come out during the campaign. To an extent we already have – in the `out of touch’ meme for example. Criticise those points which come into view, keep the public abreast of C/T’s history, their tactics and the long-term consequences of the same, and criticise National on what they do – or don’t.

    Beyond the moral high ground of not damning on the basis of speculation, th idea to criticise National for hiring C/T because they’ve got a bad rep for being dirty, racist, etc., as someone suggested overthread will backfire, because to most people, they’re Just Another PR Consultancy and it’s too easy to equivalate C/T with all the others. I pick that rather than having the potentially desired effect of demonising all PR companies, it’ll have the effect of rehabilitating even the evil ones, since PR is 1. entrenched in all walks of life and 2. best-equipped to fight its own image battles.

    L

  54. Lew 54

    RedLogix: “So as the Sod puts it how do we deal with it?”

    Well, if you listen to Sod, I neither understand nor know what to do about it, and to an extent he’s right – I’m an analyst, not a campaigner, and certainly not a political communications strategist.

    Labour made a serious mistake when they began the personal political attacks against Don Brash (`cancerous’ etc), and then extended them to John Key. In a sense they took National’s bait, because National (being in opposition and with C/T at their back) were always better-placed to win that scrap. Labour now has no firm moral high ground from which to criticise National’s engagement with C/T or upon which to object to negative political politicking. Any such complaint from Labour can now be met with the equivalent of `they started it’. But more importantly than that, it tarnished their previously policy-oriented message, which thereafter lacked focus and was easily drowned out by National’s crisp, clear, wholly unfounded campaign.

    This has weakened their position sufficiently that I think Labour now must either repudiate National’s tactics entirely and robustly, or it must embrace the symbol-driven (rather than policy-driven) campaign model and use it against National. The principles in play here are not inherently negative or deleterious; they can be turned to any political end, and are certainly not the sole preserve of the baby-eating right. It’s a dangerous game, though, because it could usher in that brave new era of politics-by-PR-firm quicker than we thought. I think it’s justified because I think this development in campaigning is inevitable because it’s impossible to prevent and it appears to provide a competitive advantage in terms of getting yourself elected. (Ok, as Therese Arseneau said, it didn’t work for Brash – but it came bloody close).

    I predict that in the near future parties who fail or refuse to run comprehensive symbolic campaigns will find themselves rapidly becoming irrelevant, because a large proportion of people are essentially scared of and confused by policy. It is irrational and wasteful to target policy at these people (though it must remain available to them). If they cared about policy but simply lacked education or knowledge of it, perhaps an education campaign would work (It is with this long-term goal in mind that if I were dictator of NZ I’d implement civics in every high school, but that’s another matter.) There will always be a hard core of people who care about policy and who fancy themselves to be able to see through the spin: it is this people to whom policy should be targeted, while the symbolic aspects of the campaign should be targeted at those who want to feel good about who they vote for and don’t care about the policy details. The solution to reaching these two separate groups lies in waging a symbolic campaign backed by a policy campaign. On the basis that symbolic campaigns are essentially constructed of made-up stuff to which politicians can’t generally be held accountable, while policy is made up of hard stuff which is what makes the polity actually run, symbolism must be seen as a vehicle for policy. Because of the fact that the symbolic matter is made up, and either side is free to make up whatever they like, it should tend toward equilibrium – that is, the symbolic campaigns should be equally matched and generally cancel each other out, leaving policy as the defining factor between parties vying for the same part of the electorate. Policy and law, at the core of everything, must still be available to public scrutiny, submission, amendment and discussion, because that is the stuff of democracy.

    What follows is a (long and quite crude) example of how Labour could possibly take advantage of this C/T thing.

    From a symbolic perspective I think there’s one fundamental question and two possible answers to it. Every good symbolic question should derive from an answer, so let’s look at the question, look at the possible answers, and look at how to formulate a question out of our preferred one. The question in plain form is something like `what do we as the NZ electorate think about National’s involvement with Crosby/Textor?’ but that’s no good from a symbolic perspective.

    The two main answers are delineated by whether you accept or reject the moral or ethical position Nicky and Steve and others (including me) are offering here: that C/T’s involvement in the election campaign is a bad thing. This on its own is by no means an unassailable position, which is clearly shown by the fact that it has broken down partisan lines here and elsewhere – for convenience I’ll call these groups Us and Them. Those who accept this logic (Us) hold that C/T’s involvement will have a deleterious effect on NZ politics now and in the future. Those who reject this premise (Them) are arguing that there is no moral or ethical problem with employing the people who will do the best job, that all’s fair in love and politics, that Labour have unfair advantages, and that if National don’t take this opportunity to step the game up a notch, someone else will. I have a great deal of sympathy for this latter position, because as I said above, I do think it is inevitable.

    How do these two positions stand, symbolically? The way in which We take a position and turn it against Them is by taking symbolic issues from Our position and applying them to Their position. Their position in this thread is broadly amoral – it’s just business, everyone does it, etc. This is a defensive position for them because the key to getting people to care about an issue like this lies in morality. What I mean to say by this is that National can’t hope to win here – they can only hope to break even, if that. This is Our advantage.

    The way to make it resonate for people is by formulating this difference between Us and Them (We are moral, They are not) into a question with only one answer. Attaching it to another unifying device (identity or somesuch) makes it work so much the better. I can’t write that question; I don’t have the pithy word skills for it, but something like `Is this who we are?’ could do.

    A symbolic campaign should never have to stand alone, without supporting logic. Usually they can because if they pass a sniff test people don’t bother to investigate too closely. An example of some logical scaffolding for this campaign would be to couch the idea in the moderately formal economic terms of efficiency and an allegory to climate change (which is getting close to unassailable, symbolically). The argument that C/T’s approach is simply efficiency, that hiring C/T to win a campaign is just smart politics, but it ignores the long-term damage to the health of the polity. This damage is an externality, just as carbon emissions are an externality, but unlike carbon emissions, there exists no way of internalising this externality. Therefore, the only course of action to those who care about the political health of NZ is to simply not support those behind this campaign.

    I understand that this looks ugly to those of you who want a policy utopia.

    L

  55. r0b 55

    I don’t always agree with you Lew, and I don’t have time for a discussion tonight, but I thought that the above was good work. As a soundbite “Is this who we are?” is pretty damn close too.

  56. Pascal's bookie 56

    Great stuff Lew.

  57. Phil 57

    I want to come back to a comment in the OP, which I think needs some clarification…

    “A small focus group run costs $30K and is pretty ineffective, which is why Labour hasn’t done one since December.”

    Now, I don’t want to comment on the merits of focus groups – I disagree with Steve’s assertion that they’re ineffective, but that’s neither here nor there.
    The part which deserves highlighting is this;

    “LABOUR HASN’T DONE ONE SINCE DECEMBER”

    How could Steve know this for certain?

    One of two possibilities springs to mind;

    1) Steve works for the market research or PR companies that run focus groups in NZ (there are very few). This seems unlikely, as not only would it be a breach of client confidentiality, but his other commentary on market research firms (bagging their political polling units) would probably get him fired, or at least reprimanded by his managers.
    2) Steve works for the Labour Party, or has inside knowledge not otherwise known to the general public – political parties tend not to tell the world when they’re polling or doing focus group work, not only for their own privacy, but also as to avoid bias in the results.

    There could be some other explanation, Steve – you could have made it up on the spot for all I know. I’d be intrigued to hear a reply.

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