Labour’s new election slogan is a challenge for the party to focus exclusively ‘on the positive things that matter to Kiwi families’, as the PR promises.
That means rejecting the rhetoric that has New Zealand going to hell in a hand basket, and avoiding negative distractions that make Labour look like the party of dead trees, slow trucks and extinct birds.
I like Labour’s ‘Vote Positive’ more than I like National’s ‘Working for New Zealand’ (which begs the question, ‘who have you been working for until now?’)
Whether it will change anyones’ vote remains to be seen.
Election slogans and advertising strengthen the resolve of those already supporting one party over another. They probably encourage turn out, which is Labour’s big hope this election - to get its base out, and those who didn’t vote in 2008 and 2011.
The right slogan helps to reinforce positive views of the party and its leader. Or in the case of Tony Abbot in the 2013 election in Australia, a negative view of the opposing party.
His anti Kevin Rudd slogan was crass but it worked - “If He Wins, You Lose’. Australians were up for rejecting a Labour party embroiled in leadership fights.
But negative slogans can backfire. The British conservative party used ‘New Labour, New Danger’ in 1997, with a picture of Tony Blair with glowing red eyes. It was nasty because it implied Blair, a Christian, was the devil. People didn't like it.
More importantly, the country was in the mood for change. The Labour party ran on the slogan ‘Britain Deserves Better’, and it hit exactly the right tone after thirteen years of Tory government.
In 2014, our Labour party has opted for a positive message and that’s a good thing, but only if they stick to it.
It will require discipline. Talk about Labour’s move away from volume to value in manufacturing; its plans for job creation in the regions; higher wages; the biggest change to the tax system in a generation with the introduction of a capital gains tax; a new blueprint for monetary policy that supports exporters and jobs as well as inflation control; and safeguarding universal super by increasing the age of eligibility.
The idea that this is a National-lite platform, as some commentators have suggested, couldn’t be more wrong.
Labour’s economic upgrade marks the biggest difference between the two big parties in decades.
But a ‘positive’ campaign means Labour will have to stop the misery mantra. Like it or not, the number of people in the polls who think the country is heading in the right direction far out-number those who think it’s not.
They should give credit where credit is due. Praise National for keeping Labour’s Working for Families, which the Nats voted against and called ‘communism by stealth’; and for keeping Kiwisaver and interest free student loans, which they also voted against.
Sticking with those Labour policies helped Kiwis on frozen wages get through the GFC in better shape.
And stop making every issue a litmus test (from roads to man bans and dead trees) - because this is just another way of telling Labour supporters to bugger off and vote National.
That’s not a winning strategy.
Labour has a positive message. It’s got about 70 days to talk about nothing else, and avoid anymore side-shows.