The announcement of the election date was an opportunity for the left to define the campaign. It can’t afford any more missed opportunities.
It wasn’t like we didn’t know it was coming. The announcement of the date today has highlighted the fact that the left now has six months to add five per cent to its support, find and mobilise a couple of hundred thousand people, change perceptions of the government, announce a manifesto, promote its own vision and raise around a million dollars a month.
The Government is apparently going to announce a referendum on the flag, despite the absence of any public appetite for a vote on the topic. I want a change but I'm in a small minority, and I wouldn’t change my vote to get a new flag. So why is John Key bothering?
Because the flag discussion will suck public attention away from the opposition, soak up the time of progressive activists and claim some of our fundraising as well.
Today, Labour should have had a positioning statement ready to go, a photo op, maybe a billboard or even 'The First Election Ad'. Something to define what this election will be about and why you should vote Labour. ‘How’s National’s economic recovery going for you? Labour will make sure everyone benefits in better times.'
They were guaranteed saturation media coverage of their defining election issue cheap and easy.
The prime minister also avoided defining the campaign. I would have expected him to talk about National’s great economic recovery, and how you mustn’t ‘put it all at risk’. The fact that he didn’t may reveal a fear that the public - short of jobs and struggling to make ends meet - aren't buying his claim that a cyclical upswing in business confidence really makes ours a rock star economy.
(Just checking in one more time to see if National has fixed the economy yet.)
National will still try to campaign on perceptions of their stewardship in tough times. But campaigning on the record never worked well for Helen Clark and she had an unbroken nine years of growth, falling unemployment, falling government debt, and rising living standards.
Six months is a big ask to stay top of the polls.
Labour’s strategy can’t be to wait for the public to turn against National or finally tire of Judith Collins and her ‘Do I look bovered? Do I?’ act.
Labour's new strategist Matt McCarten has been busy maintaining a media profile by telling journalists all the things wrong with Labour and its leader. I’m not sure how that helps win elections. Telling TVNZ Q&A’s Rachel Smalley what advice you’ve just given the leader is only going to end up in Rachel Smalley’s opinion piece the next day. Makes Matt look good, not sure it does much for David.
The thing is, everyone knew the government was going to announce the election date. This was always a free hit for the opposition to define the election. There's not much time left to miss opportunities. But the opportunities are there for the taking.