It isn’t easy being Green
The American pollster and political commentator Frank Luntz wrote a book called “Its not what you say, but what they hear”. It’s a fantastic book about the use of language in both business and politics and recommended reading for anyone interested in the art of successfully crafting a message.
One of the biggest challenges for Labour this year is to get its language right. A good start would be to quickly change the way in which the media talks about the scenarios re the next government.
We always hear about the Labour-Green coalition v the National government. I cannot remember if this was coined by the National party and adopted by the media or vice versa, but however it came about, it’s damaging to Labour’s brand. Labour has to start talking about ‘the next Labour-led government’ and get right away from talk of a Labour-Green coalition. There are three reasons for this:
- 1. it is not a certainty that a Labour led government would be in coalition with the Greens. While any Labour-led government would certainly need the Greens support on supply-and-confidence, the nature of politics means that Labour may end up entering into a coalition with NZ First at the expense of the Greens. There is, of course, a very recent precedent for this. If the Greens did opt to form a coalition with the Nats (most unlikely but not inconceivable as Russell Norman and Met Turei don’t have the philosophical or political courage of their convictions that Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons had) then the likelihood of their long-term survival as a party is minimal. Ref the Lib Dems in the UK or even the Maori Party in NZ – both likely to disappear at the next election due to their support for parties (and power) against the wishes of the majority of those who gave them electoral success in the first place.
- 2. While the Labour and the Greens are reasonably close from a philosophical perspective, the only way the Greens can grow their vote is predominantly at Labour’s expense. To have any chance of forming a government post election, Labour, however, has to win voters from National. A Wgtn Green insider once told me that he believed that at least 80% of their voters would support Labour if the Green party did not exist. The likelihood of National supporters switching allegiance to the Greens is remote, so the Greens must target the Labour vote in order to increase their parliamentary presence. Labour will need to fight for each and every vote: this includes against the Greens as well as the Nats. While I don’t expect head-on attacks, I don’t expect any quarter to be given either.
- 3. There are elements of the Green party that turn off an important sector of would-be Labour voters that Labour needs in order to win the election. Russell Norman’s earlier expressions of interest in the finance portfolio, even though righty dismissed by Labour, has still created the perception that the Green’s may have an important role to play in the economic agenda of any Labour-led government. The simple truth is that this concerns a number of voters. The reality is that even though some of the Green policies are aligned to Labours (e.g. CGT) a number are not, and it has always been the major party those economic manifesto has dominated the political agenda. Does anyone really believe that Revenue Minister Peter Dunne under both Cullen and English had any say in the major tax decisions of either government?
All that aside, I believe that one of the biggest losers in 2013 was Russell Norman. When Shearer was the Labour leader, the media often sought Norman’s opinion as an opposition voice due to Shearer’s inability to clearly articulate a position and his team’s consistent failure to respond to media requests in a timely manner. Now that Cunliffe is leader, and is very articulate with an extremely competent press secretary who understands the game, we once again have a true ‘leader of the Opposition’ and Norman is relegated to fighting for media scraps like any other leader of a minor party.
The Green party received 11.1% at the last election. History will show this is the high-water mark for them. I expect them to get around the 6.7% they polled in 2008; or even close to the 5.3% they got in 2005.
With Cunliffe firing, the Labour caucus united and the growing perception that Key is only there for his rich mates, the battle for 2014 is between a Labour-led opposition and a National-Conservative coalition.