The Dim-Post

March 25, 2012

Even more advice for David Shearer

Filed under: policy — danylmc @ 7:25 pm

In the spirit of this Stuff article, that combines several totally contradictory strategies for the new Labour leader (Move to the left! Move to the center!), here is my short take on what Labour should do to win in 2014, based less on my own preferences and more on simple observation of what successful opposition parties have done before:

Have a vision. I know, you already have a vision. A high value knowledge economy. Education. Finland. The problem is that we’ve been hearing this knowledge economy line for a long time, and the National Party has already identified the education sector as a target for reform.You’re not differentiating yourself from the government or critiquing it if you’re promising basically the same thing.

Your vision should be something that defines the government in a negative sense, and yourself in a positive sense, and that ties in with your flagship policy, which you should be signaling the broad details of at least eighteen months out from the election. Example: in 2008 National campaigned on growing the economy, which John Key and Bill English were experts on, and which they claimed Labour had mis-managed. Their policy was tax cuts. Closer to the election they signaled the details (‘North of $50 dollars a week for 90% of New Zealand workers! Wow!’), but from real early on in Key’s leadership everyone knew that he promised better economic leadership than Labour and strong growth through a policy of lower taxes. You should have a similar duel vision. This is what’s wrong with the country. National isn’t fixing it. We will. Here’s how.

Events, dear boy. Events bring down governments – but only if the opposition can wed them to something more meaningful. Currently Labour has no strategy around events – they happen in a vacuum. Nick Smith resigned last week, and that’s ‘bad for the government’ – except it isn’t in any enduring sense because the opposition hasn’t defined a vision of what’s wrong with this government, so they can’t tie events to it in a credible way. In the 1990s the Labour opposition under Helen Clark attacked the Shipley government as being about ‘sleaze and cronyism’ – which was brilliant, since all government is about sleaze and cronyism (Clark promised ‘open accountable government’ as her contrast). So every time some shoddy deal came to light it reinforced to the public that negative vision the opposition presented of the government was valid. Imagine how much worse the Nick Smith/ACC saga would have played out in that environment.

Some pundits claim that Labour shouldn’t be too negative. They’re wrong – you should be almost completely negative, until the election campaign itself rolls around. Then it’s government-in-waiting time. When you’re the opposition, negative is what you’re being paid for – but you do need to offer up that initial, positive vision in contrast, and you marry the negativity to events and ‘the vision thing.’

Explaining is everything: Some pundits love to repeat the phrase that ‘in politics explaining is losing’ – the subtext being that the public are too stupid to understand any complex political or policy issues. But the political science consistently shows that in matters of controversy the public looks to their political leaders (amongst other people) to explain what’s happening and to argue their case. This is something National is really good at – Key especially – and Labour generally doesn’t do at all, which means our window of political debate is constantly being shifted to the right as National wins almost every argument by default (Welfare and education being the obvious examples). The great exception to this phenomena: Capital Gains Tax. The conventional wisdom was that this policy was political suicide, but David Cunliffe went out, made the arguments and won them all. By the time the election came around public support for Capital Gains was roughly double the level of support for the Labour Party. Not explaining is losing.

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34 Comments »

  1. It’s like you actually don’t care what policy they have.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 25, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

  2. Send the invoice to: David Shearer, c/- Parliament Buildings. Don’t forget GST is now 15%.

    Comment by northnow — March 25, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

  3. Send your invoice to: David Shearer, c/- Parliament Buildings. Don’t forget that GST is now 15%.

    Comment by Nick K — March 25, 2012 @ 7:58 pm

  4. I’ll agree that the Stuff article was about as useful as a visit to makeover salon would be for advice. Well actually, the salon would be more useful.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 25, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

  5. As an aside David should stop saying, “for example….” Repetitive. Becomes irritating.
    But why is everyone advising David how to be ummm… David the Leader?

    Comment by xianmac — March 25, 2012 @ 8:21 pm

  6. Prime Minister: You know, we’ve got a saying in the party. You don’t fuck up…
    Mayor: And?
    Prime Minister: That’s it.

    (from Australian movie, “The Dish”).

    Labour’s problem in 2011 wasn’t CGT or GST, it was their MPs’ incredible commitment to constant up-fucking. When they stop doing that, they’ll be as popular as their policies, and they’ll win. Simple as that.

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — March 25, 2012 @ 8:57 pm

  7. I think ‘explaining is losing’ is often proffered as partially as a pundit’s fallacy. Pundits of a certain type, especially the ones commenting on the game rather than the substance, want to be the ones doing all the explaining. A politician explaining policy bores these pundits and they want the politician to get back to scandal mongering, sound bites and such like.

    On the other hand when you are mired in a certain type of scandal trying to explain it’s not a scandal is just digging deeper – “I don’t think having an intern perform such an act upon my person meets the generally accepted definition of sexual relations.”

    Comment by Richard — March 25, 2012 @ 9:15 pm

  8. On the other hand when you are mired in a certain type of scandal trying to explain it’s not a scandal is just digging deeper

    that’s always been pretty much my understanding of what it means.

    Same general idea with the “Be worse than anyone can imagine”principle: when Rove says something particularly outrageous,our innate tendency is to think “Wow, nobody would say such a terrible thing if there wasn’t some truth to it!” We literally can’t imagine that it could be a total fabrication—nobody is that brazenly dishonest. So once again he wins before the argument even starts. And of course he phrases his attacks in such a way that the victim is forced to respond with sometimes complicated explanations of the actual facts, and as they say in politics, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

    http://robrites.blogspot.co.nz/2012/01/karl-rove-master-psychologist.html

    The shorter version is from LBJ: “We can’t prove he’s a pig fucker.” “I know that,” replied Johnson. “I just want to hear him deny it.”

    “If you’re explaining, you’re losing” is not about policy per se.

    It’s about explaining why you don’t hate the traditional family for example, or you’re not anti-Christian, or why you are mainstream.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — March 25, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

  9. (from Australian movie, “The Dish”).

    One puzzling thing about that movie – whatever had happened to the presumably intelligent people who built the dish itself?
    Because none of the engagingly goofy cast of knuckle-draggers, including pipe-twiddling Sam Neil, seemed capable of changing a tap washer.

    Comment by Joe W — March 25, 2012 @ 11:14 pm

  10. “JOBS” seems a good start. Unless Mallard or Pagani is allergic to them, of course.

    Comment by Sacha — March 25, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

  11. Can I say how much better this thread is so far without Bedwetter chiming in.

    Comment by Sacha — March 25, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

  12. Don’t give up your day job, Danyl.

    Comment by Hugh — March 26, 2012 @ 1:25 am

  13. Bring back the satire.

    Comment by merv — March 26, 2012 @ 8:38 am

  14. But I thought the Stuff article was satire? Hairweave and moisteriser indeed….
    Mutter mutter
    Ugly ol’ Leopold

    Comment by Leopold — March 26, 2012 @ 9:14 am

  15. Just because there’s no mention of the vast network of spooky old caves beneath parliament doesn’t mean it’s not satire.

    Comment by Joe W — March 26, 2012 @ 9:36 am

  16. Completely off topic but Bridgeman provides the usual dose of delight and confusion. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=10794652

    Comment by Amy — March 26, 2012 @ 10:06 am

  17. Basically David Shearer needs to ask himself “What would ‘The Situation’ do”?

    Comment by jumpingonabandwagon — March 26, 2012 @ 10:57 am

  18. I know of a couple of themes that Shearer could easily fit on a bumper-sticker – paint the Key Govt as obsessed with “attacking the symptom”, and expanding on his theme of a “clever NZ”, the “clever economy vs the stupid economy”.

    Comment by deepred — March 26, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

  19. Yes try “clever NZ” it will no doubt be as effective as “knowledge economy” was.

    Now off to the democracy caves!

    Comment by merv — March 26, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

  20. Shearer needs to differentiate himself from National because both Labour and National want to target education. I think there’s little that Shearer can offer apart from higher wages for teachers because National are taking care of the rest of it through the income generated through the partial asset sale scheme. Shearer needs to “Go Left” and announce a restructuring of the education system, a four year maximum period of secondary schooling like they have in the States, to get young people into work faster.

    Transform the tertiary education sector so that it costs less for students but also restricts the amount of students through IQ tests and secondary qualifications.

    Cut Government-funded courses (the majority) and use that money to provide jobs (forestry, farming, fishing) for those who are denied tertiary education and can’t find fulltime work elsewhere.

    Introduce Estate Tax and a Gambling Taxation (as well as Capital Gains) in order to reduce GST, rates, and personal income taxation for those on low incomes who have been denied a tax cut under National. Estate Tax will also enable the Government to keep superannuation at 65 years or even reduce it to 62 years like the Maori Party wants.

    And the most important area to target would be housing since we have a shortage of state houses in New Zealand and since National have tightened up with Housing New Zealand.

    So … use a raft of new taxes to reduce personal income taxation for those on low incomes, reduce the age of superannuation, and build new state houses and charge cheap rents on them.

    Comment by Daniel Lang — March 26, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

  21. and monkeys for everyone!

    Comment by nommopilot — March 26, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

  22. reduce the age of superannuation erm, yeah. http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/people_and_communities/older_people/pop-ageing-in-nz.aspx

    Comment by merv — March 26, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

  23. “…Transform the tertiary education sector so that it costs less for students but also restricts the amount of students through IQ tests and secondary qualifications…”

    Excuse me, but did you actually think about this sentence before you wrote it? Because if you did, you would quickly realise it is a presciption for an elitist education system completely at odds with the idea of higher productivity and better paying jobs (which is what the knowledge economy” is really short hand for). I would guess when you typed “tertiary education” you had an exclusively University and degree-centric view of the meaning of “tertiary education”. Tertiary also includes polytechs and a whole raft of other providers, including work-based training organisations. Importantly, technical and vocational tertiary institutions can often provide the first taste of learning success to whole cohorts of students who have poor academic school records. The importance of artisan training to create skilled workers who otherwise just join the unskilled and unemployed.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 26, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

  24. The importance of artisan training to create skilled workers who otherwise just join the unskilled and unemployed is an absolutely critical component of a better education systtem.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 26, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

  25. That is what Guilds are for Sanctuary whilst Universities produce higher value professionals such as Civil Servants and Poet Philosophers.

    Comment by merv — March 26, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

  26. A “knowledge economy” is not in my opinion a vision. As any good business student will tell you, Vision is to know where you want to go, a strategy is to know how to get there, and tactics are the steps you take to implement the strategy. A vision is, for example, a fair go for all New Zealanders. A strategy for that is the knowledge economy. Tactics (or policies) are how you implement that, for example via higher wages for teachers.

    The vision can be supported by multiple strategies. Strategies have to be mutually supporting and self-reinforcing so as to produce a coherent tactical plan, and all the PR messages have to resonate with and reinforce the strategies and the vision. This sort of business planning process is second nature to members of the corporate authoritarians that sit at the very top of the National party (Key and Joyce and Key’s favourites like Bennett), but at the moment it is eluding Labour.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 26, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

  27. So Labour mimics the Nordic Way http://www.globalutmaning.se/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Davos-The-nordic-way-final.pdf as opposed to mimicking Nationals corporate authoritarianism?

    Comment by merv — March 26, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

  28. Fascinating as the post and comments re, what Ben W said in the first comment sums up the reality – why help Labour back into power when they have not shown any sign of changing the policy positions that got them kicked out of power? Change for it’s own sake? Sigh.

    Labour are a socially liberal, free market capitalist party, and have been since Roger Douglas. Social conservatives hate their liberalism (legalising prostitution, civil unions, gay adoption of kids, banning smacking, etc) while most people hate them for their free market capitalism – because it leaves most of us worse off financially.

    Until and unless Labour change from those positions hated by the public, why help them get re-elected? Better still, why not focus on electoral reform so we aren’t forced into the Tweedle-Dee & Tweedle-Dum dichotomy that is National and Labour? Save Labour for satirical spoofs ;)

    Comment by bob — March 26, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

  29. Better still, why not focus on electoral reform so we aren’t forced into the Tweedle-Dee & Tweedle-Dum dichotomy that is National and Labour? Save Labour for satirical spoofs

    Yeah we should introduce proportional representation to break the two-party hold on parlia . . .

    Comment by Jake — March 26, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

  30. In terms of tying events to a vision, it helps if the vision of the government is something that is impossible to refute: sleaze is good because even a genuinely non-sleazy government will have the odd scandal, and people can be made to think that sleaze is going on behind the scenes even if there’s no evidence. Likewise, ‘nanny state’ was effective because any time the government tried to make any difference to anyone’s life or the world (ie do what they are there for) it could be spun as ‘interfering’.

    So while you’d think something like ‘John Key doesn’t care about ordinary NZers’ would be effective, it can be easily undermined by photos of Key hanging out with farmers or underprivileged children or whoever. ‘The government don’t know what they’re doing’ might work better – even if they do know what they’re doing, how the hell would they prove it, short of miraculous economic recovery?

    Comment by helenalex — March 26, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

  31. “…So while you’d think something like ‘John Key doesn’t care about ordinary NZers’ would be effective, it can be easily undermined by photos of Key hanging out with farmers or underprivileged children or whoever.

    You don’t say “John Key doesn’t care about ordinary NZers”. You say (for example) “Labour is about a fair go for ALL New Zealanders”, as opposed to National who are a bunch of old boy cronies flogging off our assets so they can sit around drinking champagne and laughing at us.

    Then when people see Key hanging out with “ordinary New Zealanders” PEOPLE THEMSELVES say “He doesn’t really care about ordinary New Zealanders.”

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 26, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

  32. A while back, in the oasis that is daytime TV, a spiffing fellow caught my eye on Good Morning (or similar). Resplendent in a loud, black and white striped suit, he flicked his artfully tousled hair and chuckled for the camera, whilst lazily batting away his interviewer’s questions. I thought he was some wide boy pimp, perhaps, or a visiting Australian businessman. But the voice was oddly familiar. … the penny dropped. OMG – It was Maurice Williamson. I guess he’d been to Makeover Land. How clever of the Nats to keep him hidden, along with the rest of the cast.

    The whole show rests on its star performer, John Key.

    Let him waffle on – while all opposition parties interrogate what the other Ministers are doing and hold them to account. Loudly.

    Labour ….pffft. I agree with Bob, ” Labour are a socially liberal, free market capitalist party, and have been since Roger Douglas… most people hate them for their free market capitalism.” As ever, NZ is dutifully and unimaginatively following in Britain’s wake. Shearer likes Blair and Key reveres Cameron. GB – Privatised schools and welfare services, they even want to privatise some police functions and lease roads to pension funds to manage – all very Joycean.

    Comment by Kerry — March 26, 2012 @ 5:11 pm

  33. Some Labour party supporters turned out on voting day.

    All (well ok, most) National party turned out on voting day.

    All the (I am sure. well meaning) piffle above this post ignores that bald fact.

    Shearer is only as good as his party will let him be.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — March 26, 2012 @ 9:29 pm

  34. Going negative requires a good research unit. After two terms in opposition, National clicked that hiring some people who had done a few more things than being a Young Nat or an executive assistant to an MP could result in some pro-active digging into the govt’s performance. So far Labour seem to be content to crack open that morning’s DomPost when figuring out what there questions in the House are going to be that day

    Comment by Augie — March 28, 2012 @ 8:38 pm


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