With apologies and props to Danyl
Some folk within Labour wonder why they are getting no traction with the public at the moment. The graphs below tell a big part of the story.
In January and February, half of Phil Goff’s newspaper coverage was about “policy”. Remember policy? It is the stuff that affects the rest of us. Labour released one large proposal about tax during that period, and made other, smaller commitments as well. During that time, Labour held its own in the polls – Pundit’s poll of polls showed no movement in the National-Labour gap.
From March on, however, Phil Goff has had almost no media coverage about policy. Instead, the focus has been on various forms on ructions within Labour itself. Who is the spokesperson for this and that? How smiley were the front bench after their crisis meeting in Dunedin? How many gays are in a gaggle? What was the deal with Darren Hughes and that young person, and what was the deal with Phil Goff finding out the deal about Darren Hughes and that young person, and what was the deal with Andrew Little talking to Phil Goff about finding out the deal…? None of this stuff affects the rest of us directly. And none of it reflected well on Labour.
Of course, Phil Goff could not control some of these events.
But Labour could have kept on talking about policy anyway. If it had released its proposals on how to fix our schools or bring down the cost of living or protect the environment, they would have been covered. Labour made no such large-scale announcements. Since March. In an election year. When down 15 to 20 points.
They should have. During this later period, the National-Labour gap in our poll of polls has grown by almost 2.5%.
To be sure, there is a steady stream of criticism of the government’s policies coming from Labour MPs, and it is good that they are doing that. But that kind of empty rhetoric is never going to attract much attention. It is just what the opposition does.
And the increasing tendency to target small amounts of expenditure specific to John Key and other Ministers is altogether unhelpful. Maybe Labour could attract some fleeting interest out of an extravagant helicopter ride or two. But painting the Prime Minister’s house? Providing him bodyguards? Please.
Moreover, this kind of muckraking against popular Prime Ministers does not work. Take, for example, the most high profile equivalent attack against Helen Clark – the speedgate scandal from July 2004. This one at least involved public safety and not just relatively minor sums of money. The three firms polling at the time collectively had National leading Labour by around one point just before the scandal broke, and a few weeks later had Labour leading by around four points. Not exactly a practical vindication of this kind of tactic.
My advice to Labour is to lift your sights and start to talk positively. Quit calling John Key a dick. New Zealanders collectively do not think he is a dick, and the last three years of polls suggest they are pretty firm in that view.
Instead, tell us what specifically you are going to do for New Zealanders after November. And no, “more than that dick John Key” is not a good answer.