There’s loads of analysis about on the outcome of the election in the UK; most of it is focused on Labour. What went wrong? Did they choose the wrong Miliband brother? Should they return to Blairism? And so on.
Seems to me that one of Labour’s biggest problems – both here and in the UK – is that they’re faced with an opponent that is (a) better resourced than them and (b) uses those resources to make themselves far, far better at politics than their left-wing opponents.
Just after his election victory David Cameron announced that the UK was ‘on the brink of something special’. Key has been promising New Zealand we’re on ‘The cusp of something special’. The messaging is consistently similar. The Conservative Party’s strategy in the UK election was pretty much the same as National’s strategy last year. It’s because they have the same strategic advisers of course – the infamous Crosby/Textor, who are also very active in Australian Federal and state elections.
Which gives their clients a huge advantage. Not only can they deliver data and market-research driven advice, they can trial-run lines and strategies across multiple separate-but-similar electorates, hone the techniques and sell successful ideas on to their other clients – who are all right-wing parties that want to see each other succeed.
Often when something goes wrong for John Key and the media goes ballistic, Key will often ‘talk past’ the media and deliver lines directly to the voters. And it always works. He gets to do that because of a huge wealth of empirical data about how voters react to different issues, gleaned from years of study across these multiple electorates.
Labour and the other opposition parties in these other electorates can’t do that. And it shows. They’re forced to experiment, releasing policies or taking positions on issues on a trial basis. Will the public like it? Do they respond? And if the media reaction is critical then they reverse position. They’re playing a complex game in which they know the desired outcome, but not the actual rules, against opponents who know the rulebook back-to-front as well as all the loopholes.
There are other structural factors at work, of course. But the triumph of empirically based political strategy and messaging is a very big deal that’s getting missed alongside all the chatter about Labour ‘moving to the left, or the center’ etc.