Has Labour managed to stuff up even a pretty good idea? [Turns out no - not as much as I prematurely thought.]

It's becoming so fashionable to knock the Labour Party's efforts to connect with a voting populace that just seems determined to ignore it that the contrarian in me feels like jumping the other way and hailing John Pagani as a genius.

But it seems like Labour just can't win, in that even when it comes up with what looks like a pretty good campaign idea it manages to find a way to stuff things up.

I'm referring to this campaign, designed to get grass-roots supporters to jump on board Labour's "stop asset sales" campaign and do a bit of fund raising at the same time. A nice idea. The idea of selling state owned assets (even if only partially) is one that still evokes a great deal of wariness in many New Zealand voters, given the hash we made of it last time around. And seeking to leverage the campaign to expand the party's donor base is no doubt necessary, given the likely fundraising gap between National and Labour leading into the 2011 campaign.

But there seem to be a few snags in the execution of the idea ... or, as TS Elliot might put it: Between the conception/ And the creation/ Between the emotion/ And the response/ Falls the Shadow.

First up, as DPF over at Kiwiblog has noted, the use of these "Stop Asset Sales" signs along the roadway looks to be in contravention of the Land Transport Rules. For some pretty obviously good reasons, you just aren't allowed to stick up signs - even ones containing political messages - that look like stop signs or the like beside a road.

Now, this isn't to say that Labour can't produce signs that look like stop signs, or stick these up in places that aren't visible from a roadway. It's just that those putting them up - most of whom I'm guessing are enthusiastic volunteers - shouldn't be putting them up alongside the roads. And Labour also probably shouldn't be saying "We're aiming to blanket the country with [the signs]", which could (at the least) be interpreted as encouragement to use them in ways that are prohibited.

Next potential problem is that I can't see where on these signs there is any "promoter's statement" - the name and address of the person responsible for the sign's publication - as required under the Electoral Act. I note that this requirement exists at all times, not just during the regulated period (i.e. 3 months before the election).

It is possible that such a statement is included on the back of the sign (as I haven't seen a "hard copy" of one, just photos). But I don't know that even this would satisfy the law, which states "If the election advertisement is published in a visual form, the promoter statement must be clearly displayed in the advertisement." Putting the promoter's name and address on the back of the sign is not "in the advertisement". For one thing, if the sign is nailed to a wall, then the name and address are not displayed at all!

So it looks to me, on an admittedly incomplete examination of the actual evidence [to wit - see update below], like Labour (actually, whomever permitted these signs to go out without a promoter's statement on them) may have committed an "illegal practice" under the Act. And in the case of a party secretary committing such an illegal practice, the potential punishment is a fine of up to $40,000.

Now, I could be justly accused of being overly concerned with legal niceties, and prone to failing to see the big forest because of a fixation with individual trees. It's been said before ... but I am a lawyer of sorts, so it's kind of a congenital defect.

But I do still wonder why these matters weren't sorted through before the campaign was launched. Because otherwise, the story is going to be less "Labour fights for the New Zealand public against National's rich mates" and more "Labour ignores the law when campaigning ... again". Cue recycled news stories about pledge cards and the like.

And that distraction from what we ought to be talking about is something that seems to be happening just too often.

[Update: I've had an email from a Labour source to tell me "there have been several print runs with different slight variations in the size of the promoter statement, but all authorised as far as i'm aware - the latest is attached." Mickey Savage makes a similar point in the comments below.

That being the case, then mea culpa and apologies for jumping the gun. I was mislead by this photo of the sign - the authorisation is so small it just didn't show up on the image.]

Comments (25)

by Nathaniel Wilson on April 20, 2011
Nathaniel Wilson

We shouldn't be surprised.  It's getting to the point where the only positive aspect of the current Labour party is its creativity in finding new ways to stuff pretty much any- and everything it attempts to do as opposition. Such wayward talent could provide a miraculous turnaround if it were harnessed, butwhat are the chances of that happening?

It seems increasingly likely to me that two things are going to happen this election: Record low turnout as most of us left-leaning voters have no-one to vote for, and, as a consequence, a majority National government and the end of MMP.  It will be a real shame, and should I be proven correct, the blame should almost completely be apportioned to Labour as a whole.

by stuart munro on April 21, 2011
stuart munro

Well of course while interested commentators like Andrew are the standard, Labour will suffer.

It's not as if the government had just turned in record low growth combined with record inflation, or the PM was using airforce helicopters to commute to petrolhead events or anything - presumably the BMWs are just too declasse for the leader and engineer of a failing state.

These are the news - if we are ever to live in a society that improves on them. Lawyers, of course. Find prosperity in dystopias.

by Nathaniel Wilson on April 21, 2011
Nathaniel Wilson

Choosing to blame the commentators, instead of actually thinking about why the left is in disarray, is symptomatic of the whole problem.  The general point is this:  How can the major opposition party be doing so badly in the face of the current situation?  I'll give you a hint, it's not because of the bloggers.

by Andrew Geddis on April 21, 2011
Andrew Geddis

Sorry, Stuart.

In spite of my numerous posts that are critical of the actions of the National Government, I now realise it was inappropriate of me to mention a perceived tactical failure by the Labour Opposition. I hereby solemnly swear to never do so again, recognising the responsibility of all right-thinking New Zealanders to stick rigidly to one ideological perspective.

by Chris Webster on April 21, 2011
Chris Webster

it kinda 'leaves' labour with less 'bark' than bite - ad nauseum!

by mickysavage on April 21, 2011
mickysavage

There is a promoter statement at the base of the sign.

Labour are getting a bit of a bollocking on the net about it but to be frank I am not sure if this is a bad thing or not.  Certainly the signs are quite notorious.  What is that saying about all publicity being good publicity?

With regards to the Land Transport Rule considerations I suggest that they not be erected on intersections and that anyone wearing one of the tshirts do their best not to resemble a post, just in case they get mistaken for a stop sign ; )

 

by mickysavage on April 21, 2011
mickysavage

As for your mea culpa a very understandable mistake.  I had to check twice.  The words are there but rather small and not discernable by looking at a snapshot.

by GregS on April 21, 2011
GregS

Sorry Micky, but where is the promoter statement on this sign?  Either I need new glasses, or it's printed in red.

by GregS on April 21, 2011
GregS

Don't worry, I can see it now - it's printed in red (and mighty small!).

by Andrew Geddis on April 21, 2011
Andrew Geddis

Actually, this is a useful point to ask: what is the responsibility of a blogger to ensure accuracy? Here's how I see it ...

(1) I blog for a variety of reasons - fun, trialling out ideas and working through issues in my own mind, letting off steam so I don't annoy my wife and friends too much, and (of course) an arrogant belief that my viewpoint on a topic deserves to clutter up the dataverse.

(2) On many issues, mine is the view of a moderately informed lay person who has given a bit of thought (but perhaps not overly much) to the topic. But on some I think I can claim a bit of specialist knowledge, given my day job. However, even in relation to those latter topics that I think I may know a bit more than usual about, I would never claim to be the final authority or absolutely true voice.

(3) So in either case, I try to make the sources for my views apparent (hence the multitude of hyper-links cluttering my posts) and to limit my comments to what I think can be substantiated by those sources.

(4) However, there's a limit to how much digging I will and can do before posting. I'm not a journalist purporting to produce "the true" account of a story, so I don't feel bound by the same ethical requirements they face. And the purposes for which I blog (see (1) above) don't require me to be confident that I'm as absolutely right as I possibly can be before posting ... this is a different exercise to (say) submitting an article to a peer-reviewed academic journal.

(5) Hence, every post is a trade-off between my own desire to be not obviously wrong about a topic (given what I can find about it) and the fact that I only have a limited amount of time to devote to this exercise. Sometimes that trade-off will result in my making wrong claims - like the post above. In which case, I'll endeavour to acknowledge the error and correct the post (without trying to rewrite history to make the error vanish altogether ... that would be to paint my foibles out of existence).

Anyway ... that's how I rationalise things. But perhaps the bumper sticker message should be, "Don't believe everything you read in the internet ...".

by Danyl Mclauchlan on April 21, 2011
Danyl Mclauchlan
by Tom Gould on April 21, 2011
Tom Gould

"I'm not a journalist purporting to produce "the true" account of a story." Bless. Your comedic skills are worth exploiting. But seriously, does the Press Council or the BSA have any jurisdiction over bloggers?

by Andrew Geddis on April 21, 2011
Andrew Geddis

Danyl,

We're all about the love here at Pundit. But at least he acknowledges me as being "second rate". It's an improvement on my usual rankings ...

Tom,

Seriously? No. Precisely because we're not journalists, so there's no expectation that we'll be accurate, fair, balanced or anything else that you'd want to see from that profession (in an ideal world, of course). Or, alternatively, I can make a cock-up in my post and within a matter of hours it's been spotted and corrective action has been taken both on this site and others. As opposed to print/broadcast media, which are far, far slower at correcting errors (as well as reaching far, far more eyeballs, so the effect of any error is much greater). Hence the need for regulation in this field is less pressing ... as well as being impossible to enforce.

by Simon on April 21, 2011
Simon

I saw this "Asset sales: No" sign yesterday just by the Karori Tunnel in Wellington yesterday. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/58637554@N02/5639315936/in/photostream)

There was no sign of a promoter statement on it either. Shocking.

 

by Andrew Geddis on April 21, 2011
Andrew Geddis

Simon,

Probably not an "election ad", so no need for such a statement (as opposed to a sign with "Vote Labour" at the bottom of it).

 

by MikeM on April 21, 2011
MikeM

Seriously? No. Precisely because we're not journalists, so there's no expectation that we'll be accurate, fair, balanced or anything else that you'd want to see from that profession (in an ideal world, of course).

Is it all about expectation, then?  Or is it to do with how one markets oneself?  TVNZ, TV3, the Herald, the Dom Post, etc, all claim to be journalistic news sources that more or less provide accurate reporting. Cameron Slater doesn't as far as I'm aware but I'd love to be corrected on this.

by on April 21, 2011
Anonymous

Indulge me while I get all meta.

Is a photograph of an electoral advertisement an electoral advertisement?

If I take a photo of a sign that carries an authorisation statement and then distribute the photo across the Internet at a resolution in which the statement is totally invisible, have I broken the law?

by Andrew Geddis on April 21, 2011
Andrew Geddis

MikeM,

The broadcast media are under statutory obligations contained in the Broadcasting Act and associated broadcasting codes. The print media self regulate through the Press Council, because they believe that proper journalism ought to abide by certain standards. The blogosphere sort-of self regulates, in that anyone who spends any time involved in it learns pretty quick who is worthy of respect and who is not ... plus it is of such marginal importance that why worry?

SHG,

Depends where you publish the photo ... if it's on your own personal blog, then it isn't an "election advertisement" - see the exceptions to the definition in the Electoral Act. But if you, say, printed the picture out and stuck it on a notice board, then yes, you technically have. However, there's no chance whatsoever of you being prosecuted for this ...

by Craig Ranapia on April 22, 2011
Craig Ranapia

It doesn't seem like rocket science to me that the promoter statement on signage like this should actually be legible from a reasonable distance.  Yes?

by Hayden Wilson on April 22, 2011
Hayden Wilson

Craig - the requirement is that it is 'clearly displayed'.

As I read the scheme of the act, the purpose of requiring a promoter statement, is primarily to ensure the 'promoter' can be identified for the purposes of determining whether they are a 'registered' or 'unregistered' promoter - not to inform the general viewer of the person behind the advertisement.  IN that sense the legibility to the casual viewer becomes less important.

by Craig Ranapia on April 23, 2011
Craig Ranapia

Well, I'm sure that would be an absolutely fascinating argument for a court to address -- but I'm still rather bemused that a half-way competent campaign strategist would potentially place Labour in the position where it has to waste time, money and credibility on making it. It just looks like a totally necessary own goal.  You know, like National setting itself up for several days when the big campaign issue was whether Coldplay would be using for theft of their intellectual property...

by Andrew Geddis on April 23, 2011
Andrew Geddis

Hayden,

Except that there was a requirement in the Electoral Act to put names and addresses on election ads even before there were "registered" and "unregistered" promoters (the old s.71A). So the reason probably is multiple ... to enable enforcement of the rules on promoters since introduced, but also to allow an ordinary viewer to identify the person responsible for the ad (and thus draw their own conclusions about its veracity). This latter reason has some point to it - it was how the exclusive brethren were "outed" in the 2005 campaign, after ex-members recognised the names on the leaflets.

That said, the Act simply says "clearly" - nothing about "reasonable distance". And not having seen the signs in person, I'm loathe to compound my original error and comment as to whether I think the statement meets this test!

by Graeme Edgeler on April 27, 2011
Graeme Edgeler

At the Electoral Commission, as it then was, our advice (such as it was) was that the promoter statement needed to be sufficiently visible that someone who wanted to could work out who the promoter of an election advertisement was, and the address of that person.

This would have been acceptable. Small writing on a billboard only visible if you got out of your car and walked up to the billboard would be acceptable. I don't think we ever discussed billboards high on buildings, or only viewable from motorways (where you can't stop), but I think the conclusion would likely be that in such circumstances, bigger writing might be required. I suspect the Commission would have (and will) frown on promoter statements that can only be seen with special equipment.

by peasantpete on April 27, 2011
peasantpete

Craig , I am intrigued by "a totally necessary own goal".

I have always understood "own goals" to be lamentable.

by Hesiod on May 10, 2011
Hesiod

blah blah blah. I am overwhelmed here by the depth breadth and profundity of the arguments over a whole lot of crap. Labour will win the next election because the greed and pathology of the national party is becoming more and more apparent every day.

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