There’s a lot of people offering David Cunliffe advice at the moment. Some are experienced political operatives; some are experienced political journalists and commentators; many more are self-styled PR ‘experts’. Frankly, given the last few months, it’s hard not to want to join in.
But today I will try to restrain myself because I hope the only person David Cunliffe is listening to right now is Matt McCarten (which, knowing most politicians’ deeply narcissistic compulsion to know what people say about them, may be a vain hope). Whether you believe Cunliffe’s current media malaise is due to the man himself, his office, plain bad luck, or whether it’s down to a malicious right wing press, the only way to change the story is for there to be a prolonged period without Labour making the headlines for the wrong reasons. Otherwise, Cunliffe will simply not look competent enough to be Prime Minister and people will vote accordingly. Or not, in the case of the 800,000 non-voters Labour needs to reach in order to win.
I think it’s a combination of all of the above but ultimately the state of Labour lies with its leader and it is David Cunliffe who must take responsibility. The media is what it is. If John Key is allowed to get away with blatant lies it is because, whether we like it or not, he is an extremely successful and competent Prime Minister and media coverage of him fits into that frame. Cunliffe’s framing is now the opposite and it’s up to him to change that. Despite their masters, the media did not accord Don Brash the same reverence and during the last election the press was highly critical in the wake of Key’s cuppa tea with John Banks. And he still won.
There is however, one other person I would permit into the McCarten/Cunliffe lockdown and that is Labour’s new Campaign Manager David Talbot. News of his appointment and then McCarten’s seemed to point to a clarity of purpose that’s been badly missing in Camp Cunliffe. Like so many on the Left I hope this combination is going to be a bit of a game changer. David and I worked side by side for five or six years at the Labour Party. It was our team of two who put into action Mike Williams’ first ever ambitious plan to reach the enrolled non-voters in 2005, creating the Labour ‘Factory’ and using many hundreds of volunteers to hand deliver targeted direct mail all around the country.
David Talbot is almost without fail one of the smartest people in any room and most certainly the nicest. He understands how people work and what motivates them. He gets on and gets cool stuff done without making a production out of it – you watch Labour’s social media take a quantum leap under his direction. He and Matt will be a great combination.
The only downside to Talbot’s appointment as Campaign Manager is that I now feel obliged to work hard in an election that I’d almost washed my hands of. I do really want David to win.
Both of them.