GUEST BLOG: Curwen Rolinson – Opening Night. It’s like an opera!



On Saturday night just gone, we collectively experienced one of the premier panegyrys of political pageantry in our three yearly electoral cycle. For one glorious weekend evening every three years, it’s not the All Blacks or some Super 14 team, or even whatever latest “talent” show of dubious veracity-in-the-title the people are thrilling to. Instead, we’re watching teams and thinking about votes of an altogether more important nature (in my own estimation, anyway. Everybody’s entitled to their preference, and while some sub in sport for religion as their own personal opiate of the masses, for me politics will always remain the amphetamine of the elite – with appropriate precedence of viewing and engagement).

If you didn’t catch them on the initial run, most of these are available online. In the case of Focus NZ’s, going off the production values, you may *even* be able to request a personal one-on-one re-run with Ken Rintoul over skype. If he moves his pet budgerigar a few rooms over so that it’s not *also* adding policy suggestions and/or enthusiastic support to his Leader’s Address, then an online repeat might actually be an improvement of the initial televised offering.

In any case, let’s start with the Key players. (Sorry.)

National’s ad struck me as being five things: overly long, overly boring, overly focused on Key, uninspiring, and flatly tickboxy. Oh, and I am now thoroughly sick of their orchestral version of yon Eminem song. I’d initially, the *first* time I heard it thought “wow, that’s clever … classy due to orchestralness, but will broadly resonate coz just about everybody’s heard the original”; followed swiftly by “I wonder if National’s actually paid the royalties to *use* this …” and then “I wonder if I should write a letter to the relevant record label, given Key’s strong stance on copyright infringing millionaires, and ask if Key is, in fact, a copyright infringing millionaire” :P.

By about the third time they’d used a short sample from the song to overlay a big white text about whatever cherrypicked statistic they were plugging, it really had started to grate. Almost as much, in fact, as Key’s agonizingly awkward rhetoric and delivery throughout the piece (“plucky little country” being the standout cliche); which I found followed an interesting pattern of starting every segment sounding anxious and stage-frighty before slowly getting more relaxed. About the nicest thing I can say on Key’s performance is that it appears he’d written much of his own speech, and that he clearly loves his Mum very much.

But seriously – the focus on Key detracted from National’s ability to present itself as a strong governing team rather than a cult of vague middle-aged managerial competence that spouts the word “product” every time he’s supposed to use inspiring phrases about setting the nation back on its chartered course toward prosperity. The only time we got any sense of “governing team” was watching a bunch of Young Nats engage in the upper-class sport of slow-motion rowing (appropriate for National, I guess; as being directed by cox to go backward is pretty much what this government’s all about) and the only bit which really broke the monotony of “statistic/factoid-flash .. music fades out .. Key talks for a few minutes … music fades in” was the caricature of a Labour-Greens-InternetMANA rowboat, presenting assumedly a spectacle of coalition governance less stable than reliance upon the Maori Party, United Future, and ACT. That bit will definitely resonate with a certain sort of (probably pro-FPP) voter.

Both of these elements – the excessive Key-focus and the frankly flat and uninspiring over-emphasis upon productivity gains rather than, say, reductions in poverty or a genuinely uplifting vision for prosperity – set up an incredibly sharp contrast with Labour’s subsequent effort. So much so in fact that the only way Labour (and David Cunliffe in particular) could have done a better, closer job at setting up an actually diametrically opposed (and thus wildly successful) ad to National was if they’d actually had the script of National’s effort to hand when filming their own effort, and gone “Yeah, let’s do the total opposite of that” at every point.

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And I know I’ve said this several times before by now, but that’s *exactly why it was so good*.

Where Key was just sitting in an armchair talking flatly to an offscreen interviewer with a famous voice; Cunliffe actually literally took his viewers on a journey through Labour’s vision. Which was amply and compellingly demonstrated through the magic of symbolically uniting Caucus, Young Labour, and what I assume were regular and ordinary Labour Party faithful in working for a community. Which became a *conversation*. Which then became a *series of conversations that actually literally showed Labour MPs engaging with their communities, and responding with solutions to relevant problems*. As befits my NZF alignment, I did find myself swearing at the television every time a Labour MP came out with an NZ First policy or value that Labour’s now pushing … but in a spirit of positivity and left-wing co-operation, I did *also* note that much of Labour’s ad was geared up for subtly promulgating the idea it’s ready, willing and able to work with both New Zealand First *and* the Green Party in governing coalition post-September 20th. At least, that’s how I read the sheer volume of policy coterminity and the fact they had an older woman of the Grey Power demographic all dressed in black talking about the salience of environmental protection coz the New Zealand she’d grown up in had swim-able rivers – the very essence of #BlackGreen2014.

Seriously. Labour’s was pitch-perfect; and in my estimation some of the best political advertising I’ve ever seen in this country. It didn’t need to get negative to get its message across, and I don’t think it even mentioned the National Party once. I actually felt uplifted and inspired by the whole thing, and even warmed to David Cunliffe’s on-screen persona a bit. Seriously well constructed political advertising, even if parts of it did come across as a bit of a political infomercial. Even the shakey-cam was great and well used. The demonstration of traditional values inherent in everybody mucking in, then sharing scones and a cup of tea afterwards was just brilliant – as was the successful portrayal of Labour’s MPs as the sort of regular, but inspiring Kiwis whom one would genuinely feel comfortable going to with an issue, or even just hanging with. I also noted with considerable approval that where Key had talked in flat and uninspiring terms about “products” and effectively seemed to reduce New Zealandness down to how we export the occasional value-added item .. David Cunliffe not only managed to hit *far more* points about how a positive economy would work for ordinary New Zealanders (and seriously good use of “although it should” to broaden points) … but he also set out that there was something more important than economic growth – feeling good.

I just about jumped out of my seat at that point, because as I keep saying, it was just such an awesome direct response to Key’s empty rhetoricalizing, and just hit the “vote positive” theme so squarely on the head! Even if it did seem to channel John Kirwan a bit 😛

Full marks, ten stars; and I’m not even going to take a point off for the use of Coldplay for the soundtrack (even though this *does* now mean that Decision ’14 is effectively the contest of Eminem vs Coldplay … or, phrased another way, two middle-aged white men going at it). Victory for Labour and Cunliffe has never seemed more … plausible.

The Greens, by contrast, suffered in their placement just after Labour’s. It wasn’t a bad ad, and I’m left with a very clear impression that the Greens prioritize Education, Equality, and the Environment … but coming straight after David Cunliffe’s Sermon on the Mount, they just couldn’t compete 🙁 and I’m left with an enduring vibe of negative campaigning and poor audio production values – both probably unfair impressions, but the natural result of another direct contrast between the ad styles of The Greens and Labour.

I should say at this point that I am usually the predominant proponent of vitriolic, vindictive, and just plain downright *nasty* invective in politics, particularly when it’s being used to pummel the Nats for their perfidious previous political failings … but having come straight after Labour’s golden-halo positivity-binge, even though I agreed utterly with Metiria Turei on so much of what she was saying and *actively wanted to like the ad and its featurees* … they could have done better. Still, a solid effort, and one that will resonate well with its supporters. I believe that was some Moby I heard on the soundtrack?

Now obviously, I’m going to be biased about New Zealand First’s. But I’ve heard from a number of sources, both non-aligned and in other parties, that the NZF effort was pretty good. Winston is a solid performer, and nobody else does *glower power* quite like Winston on a rage about how bad the present government is. Whomever that might be. I found myself, emotively, rediscovering many of the things I like about NZF and many of my reasons for supporting said party, while I was watching that broadcast … so I suppose that the clear demonstrations of values and the strong and strident rhetoric from Winston will do an admirable job at reaching out to our constituency. Having younger student types talking about the importance of protecting our elderly; while also having more elderly NZF people (Shoutout to Pat Rhodes of NZ First Pakuranga!) talk about how important it is to foster and support our young people really did an awesome job at setting out the unitary nationalism (“one nation” in the Disraelian sense) which my Party ascribes to – all Kiwis advancing together, whatever age or ethnicity you might happen to be. NZF also managed a far more effective implementation of the same basic format National was running of “Leader talks; Stat/Factoid On Screen; Leader Talks”, both due to hte far shorter duration, and the fact that Winston has both more to say and more engagingly than Key does.

Only *slight* issue with the advert is that Winston doesn’t change gear very well, so in the last 10 seconds when he was supposedly trying to do the smiley happy “give us your party vote bit”, his eyes and mannerisms were still very much stuck in the “Cold Fury At Government” mode, meaning that it rang a bit false at the closer.

Still, really solid ad, and I’m happy with it.

Of the minnow parties, Peter Dunne managed to pull off what my chief of staff referred to as being “the politician’s politician”. I.e. it takes a truly special individual to give a several minutes long speech about the importance of idealism in politics and how you got into politics due to idealism … as part of a campaign to justify a political career that has been so incredibly bereft of idealism as to see Dunne working with literally every government from any side of the House since MMP began, and apparently regardless of agenda.

Apart from the beautiful backdrop, the nicest thing we can say about United Future’s ad is that it put the spotlight squarely on United Future’s greatest (and possibly only) asset: Peter Dunne.

The real surprise standout, however, was the ad for Brendan Horan’s Independent Coalition. I’m sure that featuring the same island as the NZF one was unintentional, but Brendan managed to put on a really compelling, convincing, and cohesive presentation for why people should vote for an Independent – and, if you’re in the Tauranga or Bay of Plenty area, for Brendan specifically. I genuinely felt that out of all the party broadcasts, Brendan’s did the most to make me actually go “Hey, these MP creatures … they’re actually quite nice human beings on occasion”. Brendan’s also went well further than Labour’s on the idea of community service – Labour could only rent out a community hall for the purposes of deploying its activists to refurbish it as part of an infomercial … Brendan could actually roll out footage of him coaching local kids’ waterpolo teams, as well as local constituents who *actually seemed like they’d genuinely had a helluvalot of time for him*.

Admittedly, Brendan’s had much work in television before, so the fact he was able to put on a competent Opening Night broadcast perhaps ought not be quite so surprising … but given how minnow parties have historically faired in our politics, Brendan succeeded in his most important objective of making the NZ Independent Coalition look like an actual, viable political party worth voting for. He even managed to succeed where each of National and United Future had failed, and present his Party as being about far more than one man, with a capable and competent team standing beside him and even sharing the speaking bits.

Really impressed with Brendan! No wonder he’s polling a very close 2nd in Bay of Plenty right now according to Nat internal polling!

InternetMANA’s was um … that wasn’t a party political broadcast like anything we’ve ever seen before. It was either very, very good; or just a little too left-out-field to be viable. I’m genuinely unsure which, and we won’t actually know the answer for some weeks.

They did a really, really, stupidly good job at setting out a long term vision and creating an engaging, humorous ad that was fast-paced, did policy, and set out values. However, I do wonder how much of said ad will either go over the heads of voters or just straight-up not stick in the memory. The trouble with a really flashy and animated ad like that is that it’s very possible to wind up focused on and recalling style over substance; so while we’re now all probably able to tell you that in the InternetMANA’s vision, anthropomorphic talking cats with deep voices are apparently able to raise children who make Back To The Future references … it’s a little difficult to remember specific policy points raised by InternetMANA because we were all too busy being captivated by the “wtfness” of seeing an actually-exciting/entertaining party political broadcast. Oh, and the talking cat. Graceful nod to Kim DotCom and genuinely lol’d at the GCSB reference. If it works, then they’ve just proven themselves a game-changer, but will await results before decreeing it best campaign opening ad ever. Will definitely induce multilple repeat-viewings on youtube from their target market, so probably a positive.

ACT’s by contrast … was everything that the Internet/MANA party’s advert was not. And definitely not in a good way! The two things that stood out for me about ACT’s stilted effort were the production values that *literally looked like they’d been done in Microsoft Powerpoint* … and the fact that Jamie Whyte has evidently decided the best tactic to deflect allegations of racism against Maori, is to trot out the non-white Lady Whyte standing by his side. I could mentally almost hear the repeat and sustained chorus of “My wife is from Singapore!” which this approach is based on – Whyte’s predecessor as leader of ACT, Don Brash, famously used exactly this canard to try and dodge exactly the same allegations back during the 2005 campaign. Tokenism didn’t work then, either.

But seriously. ACT’s ad was 2nd worst out of every one of the contenders on show last night. If we go by expectations for a theoretically serious party (hard to believe, I know), then I’m even more disappointed that one of the theoretically richest political organizations in New Zealand has managed to produce such an incredible piece of dreckh as this. About the nicest thing to be said about it is that it proves Jamie Whyte once had hair.

The Conservative Party’s effort was … middling. Colin Craig manages to do a far better job rehearsed and cut thn he could ever manage in person sans editing (as demonstrated by the woeful footage of him attempting to pontificate to an audience of Grey Powerites over Lochinver not so long ago), and he definitely managed to hit most of the right notes for his small and confusing band of sycophants … although I’m left wondering what, if anything, in his broadcast there was to actually stand out and latch on to. It definitely won’t *hurt* their prospects, however, and actually managed to portray Craig as a semi-sane perso more’s the pity; so I suppose the Cons can regard that ad as a partial success.

The Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party managed to beat out the Cons for “surprisingly sane” in its electoral broadcast. Gone was the 2008 spectacle of Michael Appleby attempting to promote an economy run off hemp biofuel. Instead, reasonable looking and professional-appearing (or genuinely-medically-impaired-seeming) Kiwis were used to promote a strong message of harm minimization, law reform, and medicine provision. Pointing out that decriminalization or legalization is increasingly normal elsewhere in the world and seems to lead to less teens on drugs was an absolute win; and even though I’m a huge fan of Julian Crawford and the rest of his merry green men, the decision to not feature ALCP candidates but instead put the focus on the people who will actually be affected by their policies – the ill, the undeservedly criminalized, and the youth-who-will-assumedly-not-be-quite-so-drug-inclined-as-a-result – was a very good one.

Really awesome effort from the ALCP, and I hope that ads like this will make their campaign more compelling for more mainstream persons than ever before.

Focus New Zealand’s already been covered above …. but suffice to say I like the guy’s enthusiasm; and it takes some serious … not being able to perceive one’s own limits to actually put a webcam-recorded leader’s address replete with chirping pet budgy and all the production values that entails on national television with a straight face. Points for effort.

Was also surprisingly impressed with the Democrats for Social Credit effort, as well. They actually managed to convey a sense of how important and integral to Kiwi politics the Social Creditors used to be; while also conveying an impression of contemporary viability by pointing out just how many Kiwi voters this election either have voted Social Credit themselves, or had family members who have. Their Party Convention footage even looked almost lively – and presented a clear contrast to Peter Dunne, for obvious reasons. (i.e. they *actually have* a Party Organization – only 30 people rocked up to Peter Dunne’s last Convention…)

No Maori Party, and not really missed. Wonder what happened there, then.

So all in all … not a bad Opening Night. We’ll see how the punters and non-beltway types react to the ads as they slowly percolate into places where people actually watch things – like the internet and youtube rather than TV One at 7:30 on a Saturday night.



“Curwen Ares Rolinson is a firebrand young nationalist presently engaged in acts of political resistance deep behind enemy lines amidst the leafy boughs of Epsom. He is affiliated with the New Zealand First Party; although his postings here should not necessarily be taken as indicative or representative of NZF’s policy or views.” 


  1. Brilliant . Missed it but now feel as though I was there!
    Made me recall and rethink the leaders, MP’s , parties and policies all over again. Good to see positivity in some parties and the reviewer!
    Go democracy! Go Curwen.

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