The importance of political narrative

Written By: - Date published: 9:54 am, January 15th, 2023 - 37 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, election 2023, jacinda ardern, labour, national, political parties, Politics - Tags:

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.

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.

37 comments on “The importance of political narrative ”

  1. aj 1

    Timothy Snyder nails it.

    Reasoned dispute towards constructive policy…..

    Not possible in politics in most of the world today, if ever indeed it ever has been.

  2. dvT 2

    Wayne Brown’s ‘staggering’ $123k legal bill, plus his $5k a week chief of staff

    Good to see cutting cost!!! GEEZ HA

  3. Tiger Mountain 3

    We have the reverse situation almost of Britain 75 years ago. Winston Churchill, arch conservative, union buster, and racist, guided a beleaguered Britain through WWII and was dumped post war for a Labour Govt. that bought in far reaching nationalisations and unparalleled levels of public housing and Healthcare that lasted for decades until the vandals arrived in the form of Thatcher and Reagan.

    Jacinda Ardern guided this country through–we know what–but her would be replacements want to attack recent working class gains (PPL, FPAs, rising minimum wage and Living Wage) and Māori people, and keep shovelling the wealth “upstairs”. It is filthy right wing chaos and division that the Natzos and ACT seek, based on Steve Bannon and the Trumpers modus operandi.

    Micky is spot on with the comparison to Mayor Browns Campaign. Wayne Brown has a track record of union busting, insider trading, bullying and intimidation, but it mattered little to Auckland voters. Although if the strategic Molloy and Beck withdrawals had not occurred we would likely have Mayor Collins. As dvT points out above “Browny” is a Grade A hypocrite. And it will get ugly indeed on the General Election stage if Labour don’t develop a short sharp response very soon.

    NZ Labour has been unwilling to recant Rogernomics/Monetarism/Contracting Out/Mangerialism etc. and this will be their undoing in the end. The NZ Labour Caucus to my eye is substantially neo Blairist along with some just politically vacuous, bar Michael Wood and Willie.

    –State House/apartment mega build
    –New Works Dept taking over all contracted out tasks like roading
    –Restore full public ownership of power generation and supply
    –Retire MSD/WINZ and institute a basic income for all citizens via IRD and a new agency for special needs groups
    –A big “free” list, Dental, Public Transport etc.

    NZ Labour need a reset and to get their heads out of…and co-operate genuinely with Greens and TPM (who are kicking it around again regarding the Natzos) or I will be battling yet another bunch of tories in my gold card years–which I will of course–stick it to the man! is still my default setting.

    • Anne 3.1

      "And it will get ugly indeed on the General Election stage if Labour don’t develop a short sharp response very soon."


    • Pataua4life 3.2


      Can you please provide evidence that Wayne Brown has a history of insider trading as defined by the law and not your opinion. As if you don't i suspect that this must be very close to slander?

    • Bearded Git 3.3

      Agree with much of that Tiger

      I think you underestimate Labour's ability to win votes with some changes in policy and with Jacinda outshining Luxon in the campaign.

      I also happen to know that a senior Labour cabinet member supports a Wealth Tax.

      • Tiger Mountain 3.3.1

        It was all doom and gloom in US Midterm elections-a relentless campaign in media channels declaring huge Republican victory for months. Then enough people got organised and voted.

        We have not got a hot button issue like Abortion, but some heavy policy announcements could do it. Yes, Jacinda will slaughter Luxury Luxon in debates.

      • Hunter Thompson II 3.3.2

        Political party leaders may have some effect on an election result, but it's the policies that really count, IMO.

        Despite JA's marshalling NZ thru' the Covid-19 difficulties, some of Labour's policies have got a lot of voters very worried.

        Other policies haven't got very far or (like the Auckland Harbour bridge cycle crossing) have been canned.

        So Luxon may get over the line.

  4. PsyclingLeft.Always 4

    Their advantage is Jacinda Ardern.

    Yes. She is till the standout…..and IMO…a Gem. (notwithstanding the whiteanting from "some" IN Labour, on here even : (

    Fuck knows where NZ will be, if nact do get back in power. IMO : in a very bad place….

    • Alan 4.1

      This is 2023, not 2017 or 2020

      • Anne 4.1.1

        Fancy that! I never knew. 🙄

      • Tony Veitch 4.1.2

        Well, bless me, for once Alan is right! Very astute of him.

        I wonder if he's noticed that 'things' (like climate catastrophe, war, starvation etc.) have not also gone away like 2017 and 2020 have.

        I wonder if he genuinely thinks a corporate CEO with f-all people skills and a loose relationship with facts and the truth and a balance-book mentality, is the best person to lead NZ through the crises which 2023 will bring.

        I know who I prefer.

  5. Patricia Bremner 5

    One thing we can do is donate small amounts often to the Greens and Labour to aid their campaign. (The Right have amassed huge war chests.)

    We need to be supportive of our MMP Government. They are our best chance for the required changes to bring future hope. (No… not perfect, but well intentioned and hard working.)

    Remember to "Win the big argument", then iron out the details.

    "We are doing this for our future."

  6. Kat 6

    Basically what the author is saying is that propaganda, cunning politics with some possible fast footwork in candidate gerrymandering won the Auckland election for W. Brown.

    Well welcome to general election 2023, the political cunning already began with the Hamilton West by election. The media play a huge part, same lot that created "Jacindamania"……who can control the message will win the election.

    With National/Act its not about policy its about power, and doing/saying whatever it takes to attain it (for all the reasons we on the left already know). So far they are paying the piper and calling the tune.

    So far…………….

    • Ghostwhowalksnz 6.1

      Every previous super city mayor won on around 46% plus of the vote. ( what Brown got)

      Even in 2010 against John Banks , the sitting Auckland City mayor, its was 49% for Len Brown

      Are you suggesting that Collins could have won on 31% if there was more right candidates stayed the course and split the vote ?

      I think you are dreaming

      • Kat 6.1.1

        My comment was related to what the author wrote: "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………"

        And, if you read my comment closely it says: "… some possible…."

        Dreams are free…..goals have a cost….

        • Ghostwhowalksnz


          What then is candidate gerrymandering… a phrase of your own creation

          • Kat

            Find a dictionary, look up the word gerrymandering, understand its meaning…..then put candidate in front of it……wink

            The English language can be as artistic as necessary.

            • Ghostwhowalksnz

              I know what gerrymandering is , its about drawing electorate boundaries

              Why not explain what you mean specifically rather than inventing nonsense phrases.

              I explained why a person with 31% cant win no matter how many other candidates . Then I said what you claim is tosh. A twofer

              • Kat

                Ok….he that casts no shadow, I raise my hand to disengage, and proclaim you as the current master of pettifoggery………

  7. Alan 7

    I have jut reread this, are you preparing us for the Jacinda resignation Micky?

  8. adam 8

    A vote for national is a vote to let the Godless and the Greedy run the country via act.

  9. pat 9

    'The issue for Labour is how to counter what will clearly be a negative campaign."

    With 'inflation' hitting the ability of the electorate to meet needs and an accentuated recession looming why would you (or anyone) expect anything else?….there is little to be gained in being perversely optimistic in the face of the facts.

    • adam 9.1

      They could introduce a price freeze, or rationing.

      There are other options in dealing with inflation, but we have moved so far to the right. The insane are running the asylum within the purity of liberalism. So the poor have to pay for the inflation the greedy have imposed.

  10. Stephen Bradley 10

    When I was a boy, say 1955, my elders would refer to the 'big lie technique' in reference to news stories broadcast over the wireless. The 'big lie technique' was developed by Dr Joseph Goebbles, Reich Minister of Propoganda in the National Socialist government of Germany 1933-1945 led until his own suicide by Reichfuhrer Adolf Hitler.. A key element of the technique was to repeat something loud enough and often enough so that enough people began to believe it. A second element was to contain the message in three simple phrases. In today's language that would be [simplified]: Labour keeps screwing up; everything is broken, National will fix it. A third element is find a scapegoat, some section of the community that the rest of us can be urged to blame – variously, according to the need: Maori, solo mothers, immigrants/refugees, gangs, unemployed layabouts, pommie agitators. communists, et al.

    Labour can combat this message management by sticking to the ethical practices so far, stripping down its message to three themes, and have them relevant to the lived experience [actual needs] of the democratic majority.

    • Thinker 10.1

      Not sure if that's a fair comparison, because the NAZIs made it illegal to voice an opposition (similar to what Key did with the unions during the NATSis term).

      It's also made more difficult by any opposition being able to criticise who is in government, but not having to show their own results, which is a pretty unfair situation.

      I agree with the person who used Churchill's example above. Although, my parents (who were British children during the war) said that Churchill's big problem was that, at a time when people wanted to rejoice and forget about war, Churchill was warning them about the impending Cold War and there was a feeling as if Churchill enjoyed Britain being at war. With hindsight, of course…

      But, I also think there's an element of fashion about governments these days, which is why ex rugby players or celebrities get picked as political candidates. Like all good fashions, after a while they get stale and are vulnerable to a new and interesting style from someone else that takes people's attention.

      • Visubversa 10.1.1

        The main thing I remember about the documentary film about the 1948 election in Britain was an interview with an old man sitting in a pub. He was talking about why he and his friends all voted Labour and he said something like "my mother died for the want of the price of a pint of blood". Working people wanted the support of a National Health Service.

        A not so obvious reason was an increase in the rural vote for Labour. Farming people had got used to the restrictions, and the support for modernisation necessitated by wartime rationing. The Tories campaigned on the removal of these restrictions and supports. Labour promised to keep on helping farmers to modernise and supply more of Britain's needs as the country recovered. Consequentially, Labour won more rural seats.

  11. Peter Bradley 11

    "If you want to know what's wrong with democracy spend 5 minutes talking to the average voter." Winston Churchill.

    When do voters take responsibility for their tendency to be manipulated by charlatans? They don't – the consequence of lower taxes is born by their children and grand children who's future access to public services and infrastructure is diminished. The consequence of racist polices and growing inequality plays out over time and is not immediately felt. Voters are like frogs in a pot of slowly heating water asking center right leaders to get that water boiling in order to hurt someone else.

    The UK is a classic example – despite all evidence to the contrary voters believe to their bones that a cruel and austere government is the only sensible option. This overpowering belief has forced the UK Labour party into adopting most Tory policy as it's own in order win an election.

    The consequence for ordinary UK citizens are not great but they will vote for the same thing over and over.

    • tc 11.1

      UK labour is Tory light under starmer. What socialism existed is being purged for the cause.

      Despite all evidence to the contrary the media backs the tories austerity

      Media is not serving the people but the establishment. Al Jazeera doco lays out the systemic purge within labour driven from the top.

  12. woodart 12

    brown is labours best election weapon. a large number of jafas are already p*ssed off at him. read todays stuff. having hooten as his mouthpiece is more good news for labour. brown is confirming everything that northlanders already knew, and his association with a failed nat spruiker is comedy gold. even grainy herald is turning against brown..hah!

    • tc 12.1

      Many jaffas I speak to are pissed they're funding dirty politics and feel deceived which hooten would wear as a badge of honour.

      Anyone can rant and rave, being inclusive and constructive is what's required, something Wayne struggles with being an old school authoritarian.

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