What is important to voters? Good policy that gets results? Competent, well managed execution of government? A leader who is perceived as friendly and accessible? Some vague overall general impression?
I’m moved to ask because of a bizarre comment in one of DPF’s posts at Kiwiblog. The post is ordinary enough. DPF is having a hissy because his attack on Labour’s “Stop Asset Sales” signs seems to have backfired, resulting in publicity for Labour’s campaign, and an increase in donations. (Certainly it caused me and others I know to donate more signs – cheers DPF). Farrar also quotes The Standard as a leftie blog that was critical of Labour falling foul of traffic law (a bit of a departure from his usual lie that this blog is run by Labour!).
Anyway, that’s all by the by. The bit that caught my eye was:
They [Labour] do not realise that issues of policy are less important to voters than issues of competence.
I wouldn’t have thought that the Nats were going to score any points on actual competence with the electorate, their absolute bungling of the economy and the Christchurch quake recovery being two major cases in point. What DPF really means by “competence” is spin — who’s winning the public perception wars at the moment.
So in those terms, is DPF right? Is spin more important than policy? Looking at the polls right now you’d certainly have to think so wouldn’t you. By any rational criteria the Left’s policies are better for the majority and better for the environment, yet the Nats are miles ahead in the horse race. Spin seems to rule.
But perhaps DPF should look a little deeper than last week’s poll. The Nats won the last election on the basis of being “Labour policies plus tax cuts”. Their popularity was built and still rests on their wholesale adoption of Labour’s ideas. Working for Families. Nuclear Free NZ. Ownership of KiwiBank. Interest free student loans. Big Labour policies that the Nats haven’t been able to touch. How popular will they be when they start cutting in to them? (Oh – and let’s not forget one of their own flagship policies, mining on prime Conservation land. National ran away from that policy pretty fast didn’t they.)
Policy matters. Labour and the Left needs to be relentlessly focused on developing good, effective, forward looking policy. And the communication of policy matters. Get that wrong and all the good work in the world is wasted. As the election nears and the public starts to pay attention, the good communication of policy becomes the key.
All the rest is fluff. It doesn’t surprise me that National’s pet blogger thinks they can drift through the next election on a cloud of spin. But I think he is both wrong, and complacent. And I think it’s a pretty damn impoverished model of democracy.