One thing that really impressed me about the last Auckland Mayoral campaign run by Wayne Brown was how simple his campaign messaging was. It was extraordinarily simple. Auckland was broken and he was the man to fix it.
His policy platform was remarkably sparse. He wanted to fix Auckland’s infrastructure, stop wasting ratepayers money, take back of the Council Controlled Organisations, improve transport networks and make the most of our environment.
As well as being sparce it was also combative and divided the electorate into long suffering ratepayers as opposed to overpaid public servants of directors of CCOs.
By comparison Efeso Collins’s campaign lacked this level of clarity. Apart from a promise of free public transport his messaging was far too complex.
Brown had a certain amount of luck. Auckland Transport announcing the week before Election Day that large swathes of the rail network was going to be shut down for extended periods underlined how bad the Super City’s infrastructure is and reinforced the main theme of his campaign. I still struggle with the timing of that announcement. It should have been made either well before or after the election. The timing reinforced Brown’s campaign theme dramatically and with hindsight it is no wonder that he lost.
His campaign was not without controversy. Promising on film to have a photo of a senior reporter who had the temerity of asking him difficult relevant questions placed on the city’s urinals should have been a game changer. But it was not.
National will take a lot of heart from this campaign. It had senior campaigners involved in the crafting and mounding of the messaging and it showed. And the apparent back room deals that saw his two contenders on the right pull out should be subject to public scrutiny but so far have not.
Even now it appears that National is moulding its campaign activities on what worked for Brown. National’s campaigning so far is to complain that everything is broken and, without providing any detail, promising to fix everything. And their language is divisive.
The campaign technique is not a new one.
best explanation of the current politics I have ever seen! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/9X0MkWyrh7
— Savan Qadir (@savanQadir) January 7, 2023
Please note I am not equating National’s policies with fascism. I am drawing a comparison with campaign techniques not the substance of policy announcements.
The technique clearly has been used overseas. Just thing of Donald Trump making America Great Again or the UK Regaining Control from the EU as two examples where simple slogans won election contests against the odds. And how Jair Bolosonaro managed to almost win again in Brazil shows how potent the technique is.
The picking fights aspect is clear to see locally. The Government’s Three Waters Reform provides a perfect subject, allowing National to hint darkly at what Co Governance actually does not mean. All they have to do is raise the specter and allow individuals to picture whatever bogeymen they want.
Lefties tend to prefer complex real world discussions and solutions. In a complex world these will provide better solutions. But in using these techniques they sacrifice a large area of campaigning potential to the opposition.
The US Republicans recognize this. This passage from Drew Watson’s book “The Political Brain” although written in 2008 is still relevant:
In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins. Although the marketplace of ideas is a great place to shop for policies, the marketplace that matters most in American politics is the marketplace of emotions.
Republicans have a keen eye for markets, and they have a near-monopoly in the marketplace of emotions. They have kept government off our backs, torn down that wall, saved the flag, left no child behind, protected life, kept our marriages sacred, restored integrity to the Oval Office, spread democracy to the Middle East, and fought an unrelenting war on terror. The Democrats, in contrast, have continued to place their stock in the marketplace of ideas. And in so doing, they have been trading in the wrong futures.
The issue for Labour is how to counter what will clearly be a negative campaign.
Their advantage is Jacinda Ardern. She has taken something of a battering from ultra conservatives, anti vaxxers and old grumpy people as well as the right media. She has recently been somewhat distracted. But leading the country through the past few years would have taxed any leader.
And it should be remembered that she was something of a reluctant leader. She has never pursued power for power’s sake. It was offered to her and she reluctantly accepted.
There are overseas examples that I am sure Labour strategists are looking at. Daniel Andrews’ recent win in Victoria, albeit with a reduced vote, was said to be because hope always defeats hate.
The formulation of this year’s campaign messaging by the left will be of utmost importance. And it needs to be uplifting and focussed. But most importantly it needs to be simple.