There’s a lot of analysis about “why Labour did not win”. (Short answer: it was heavily overdetermined.) But this is about just one reason that is not why Labour did not win, one thing that almost certainly made no difference to the result: hoardings.
There’s various theories about Labour’s hoardings, ranging from the true – Vote Positive was a weird choice for a message – to the somewhat kooky – apparently we should have plastered David Cunliffe’s face over everything, as if voters might have somehow forgotten he was leader – to the utterly crazy – the claim that Auckland MPs were hiding party vote hoardings on back streets. These theories, of course, are always delivered with complete certainty.
But there’s a fundamental problem with these arguments: hoardings have very little effect on the outcome of elections. Hardboiled American political hacks have a stock phrase for this: “signs don’t vote”. It’s not quite fair to say they don’t do anything – seeing a neighbour’s fence with a candidate’s face on it does matter, because it’s an endorsement from someone in your community, someone who’s part of your broader social milieu. But a large billboard at the roadside? It just doesn’t make much difference. As an Auckland friend of mine sarcastically puts it, “I always make voting decisions based on what corflute on the street tells me”.
There’s some academic research to back this up*, and smart American practice is shifting this way. So, overall, if your theory of Labour’s loss relies on poor hoarding design or display, it is not a load bearing structure.
* Which I’m too lazy to look up right now, sorry.
As part of the NZ Labour leadership election, the candidates are able to email the party membership and sell themselves. Knowing how messy Labour’s membership list can be, I thought I’d reproduce the emails in case anyone wants to use them to make up their mind, but missed getting them.
Here they are, in the order that I received them.
Grant Robertson – New Generation
I am writing to you to seek your support to be the next Leader of the Labour Party. I don’t do so lightly, knowing the task that lies before us, but if you give me this honour I commit to rebuilding our movement and reconnecting with New Zealanders.
I’m proud of the core values of our party to give everyone a fair go, the opportunity to make the most of their potential and the obligation to look after each other. But, like many of you, I heard the message on the doorstep that some New Zealanders had lost their connection to us. Building on our values we have to re-assert our purpose, and be consistent, bold and clear in standing up for all New Zealanders.
To rebuild our movement we must first listen. Not just to ourselves, but also those beyond our party. I am proposing a Labour in the Community programme. An on-going engagement between our party and the people we serve. This will have succeeded when New Zealanders see us as a relevant, liked and valued part of their community, not just when we ask for their vote at election time.
Now, more than ever, we must be a party that faces the future. We cannot rely on past glories or wallow in old conflicts. We must have the confidence to lead the world in facing up to the emerging issues of our time. In reducing inequalities, addressing climate change and applying new technologies there are great challenges and huge opportunities.
Above all, we must be on the side of our people. We need to talk less about ourselves and focus clearly on the concerns of our communities. We need to be the party for education, for health and for housing. We need to build a coalition of workers, entrepreneurs and small business people – those who work, think make and create.
To do all of this we need a new generation of leadership. After six years in Parliament I believe I have the experience to do this job, and the energy and fresh ideas to inspire. We have the talent in our team to take it to the government, and to re-build our movement. Together we can make a difference to the lives of New Zealanders.
If you want to make contact and ask questions or let me know your thoughts, please email me,firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible over the coming weeks.
“Grant is a person who is very well grounded, confident in who he is without being arrogant or pretentious. He knows and lives Labour principles…”
“Grant was born in Palmerston North in 1971 and grew up in South Dunedin, the youngest of three boys in a middle class Presbyterian family…”
Nanaia Mahuta – Stronger Together
- Institute change where it is required;
- Build a cohesive, unified Labour Party grounded in and led by our vision for all New Zealanders to achieve their potential;
- Review our policy platform so that we are all of one mind, one voice on the key issues that matter;
- Articulate who we are and what we stand for in the MMP environment;
- Lead with integrity, commitment, authenticity and fairness; and
- Require a disciplined caucus with its sights firmly set on becoming Government.
I am ready to lead a Labour Party that cares about the state of our environment, wants economic opportunity to benefit more people, supports opportunity and innovation, and helps hardworking people to get ahead.
I maintain relationships with key decision-makers and influencers of change in my electorate which has weathered the ups and the downs of the political cycle. My leadership style is to build a team based on a common objective and maintaining focus on the important issues. My experiences have taught me that being able to listen, connect, problem solve, be decisive and draw on strengths of people are some of the essential elements to take people forward but, more importantly, authenticity of relationships are crucial to building trust and confidence.
It’s Time for Unifying Change and I Have a Plan – David Parker
I am writing to you to ask you to vote for me as your Leader of the Labour Party.
My experience as a senior Minister and in law, accounting and business gives me the conviction, real life experience and steel in my backbone to do the job.
I am standing because I want to lead Labour forward to once again share the hopes and aspirations of working New Zealanders – to lead a party we can all be proud of and one New Zealanders will be proud to vote for. We must look outwards not inwards.
Right now big structural problems face NZ. Our economy isn’t fair. The problems we face nationally are not going to go away. That why it’s vital we have a strong opposition over the next three years and a united Labour Party. I can stand up to John Key and I have a plan to lead Labour to win in 2017.
- We must unite caucus and the party around our common goal of fair economic outcomes for everyone.
- We must start fresh conversations that focus on the priorities of working New Zealanders.
- We must focus on answering the tough questions in a way that unites the country toward a better future.
- We must live up to our responsibilities so New Zealanders feel proud to vote Labour.
Put simply, I believe in a fair go and a fair share. I have the experience, the smarts and the passion to lead that change. I know how to build a better New Zealand – have no doubt about it.
Help me to deliver fair economic outcomes for all New Zealanders by entrusting me with your vote. Labour people are ambitious and optimistic. We know what we need to do. It’s time to get started.
I look forward to seeing you on the campaign trail.
Labour is the party that was built by working Kiwis – Andrew Little
Labour is the party that was built by working Kiwis for working Kiwis. We are still that party.
But we have to get our house in order. Because if we don’t then all we have is a bunch of good intentions gone to waste.
We need to fix the machine. We need to bring the pieces of the Labour movement back together and focus them on winning government and making changes we need to to build a fair society.
It’s a big task but it’s one we need to address one step at a time. First we need a caucus that communicates effectively within itself and with focus. Getting to that point will be the first job for the new Leader. Then the Leader and caucus need to reach out to the party and ensure they work well within themselves. Then we need to work alongside our affiliates.
We must find a common cause, within the movement, and with the many, many New Zealanders who want something better for themselves and for their families.
If we don’t find common cause as a movement we will never earn the trust of New Zealanders.
I can do this. I have done this before.
When I became the leader of the EPMU, one of New Zealand’s largest and most powerful unions, it was a house divided. I led the project to bring it together, to modernise it, to bring through new talent. I built a union which took our member’s issues out to the public, to the media, and won the argument again and again. We covered a lot of ground and during that time I dealt with organisations from small business to New Zealand’s biggest corporates on many different issues.
The one unifying thing, across all of these issues, was fairness. We got fair outcomes for our members and for New Zealand workers across the board because we worked together.
We are a party of immensely talented people. But right now we’re working as individuals, not as a collective movement.
We must fix this. We can.
We need to regain New Zealanders’ trust. We need them to know that when we make a promise, we can deliver. We need them to know we stand for them and their ambitions. Not just against what’s wrong but for what is right.
As part of that we must acknowledge the trust Māori put in Labour in delivering us six of the the seven Māori seats. They are our voters and we must make good on their return to us. We must ensure that Māori are represented well within Labour and that advancing their aspirations is a cornerstone of our Party. That’s what being representative is about.
People have asked me why I’m standing. I’m standing because I believe in Labour’s values. I believe in fairness and justice for workers, for families, for all New Zealanders. People aren’t getting a fair go right now, and I won’t tolerate a society in which the very few at the top gain at the expense of the many.
I won’t tolerate a society in which good jobs are destroyed and replaced with insecure work, in which people in the middle are squeezed tighter and tighter by the cost of living and have no way to get ahead. A society in which those at the bottom fall off the edge of the cliff.
These are the principles I have stood for throughout my life and they have been at the core of how I have led. They are the principles that the Labour Party embodies.
But to stand up for those principles we must be a united Party with new ideas and a real plan to win back the trust of New Zealanders.
I can bring the party together. I have the track record to prove it.
I’m asking you to vote for me as number 1 on your ballot so we can rebuild and win. Together
Andrew Little MP
Labour is out of touch. It had too much policy, and the leader was unable to explain to everyday New Zealanders just what the consequences of those policies would be. Major spending promises were seen as opportunistic and unrealistic, while important taxation changes weren’t seen as credible. The overall narrative was trapped in negative opposition, without ever articulating a coherent positive vision for the nation. The party itself lacks members, lacks skilled activists, and is continually short of money.
This is a description of the New Zealand Labour Party from, roughly mid-2007 to now. The details change, but the overall picture doesn’t, and the result remains the same: electoral underperformance.
There are, of course, various proposals floating around at the moment aimed at turning around this decline: Phil Quin or Micheal Wood or Lew Stoddart’s or …, and in due course, the Party’s own review recommendations. These proposals are all valuable, even if they do have a tendency to reflect the author’s own preoccupations – not that this article doesn’t.
But we’ve been here before. We had exactly the same problems at the last election, and we had a review, and we made changes, and yet here we are again. Why? I think there’s two important points: firstly, and somewhat fatalistically, Labour is not entirely in control of it’s destiny – there are external factors that matter, and it’s important not to overrate the importance of those things we can control. But those external factors, important as they are, have to be put to one side. Labour needs to focus on those things it can control.
Secondly, the NZLP is deeply resistant to change. Institutionally, it is hugely conservative. So at the last review, a series of big, important changes were put forward: campaigning hubs, women-only shortlists, direct member involvement in selections, creation of a supporters register, party-wide election of the leader, reformed policy making processes. Some of these changes happened: we have a democratic process for the leader, we have a different policy process now. Some didn’t: the supporter’s register, women’s only shortlists, direct member involvement in selections. Some happened, but never really clicked – campaigning hubs.
If the NZLP is serious about change, it needs to start by being committed to change. At present, far too often, the party refuses change. The institutional structure has too many veto players, and the culture of the party is too conservative and insular. The governance structures of the party are weak, and too dominated by factionalism and patch protection. Too often, the party is dominated by heavily institutionalised members who have been there for a very long time, protecting fiefdoms that are increasingly irrelevant and out of touch. This doesn’t mean jumping for every change possible, but it does mean acknowledging that previous efforts at reform have been stymied by excesses of caution and conservatism.
I arrived in Australia a month after Tony Abbott had been elected Prime Minister, a week after Bill Shorten had been elected Labor Leader and a month before Kevin Rudd announced his resignation from Parliament.
It quickly amazed me how after the years of infighting I’d witnessed from overseas, the ALP has had an entire year of stability – and leading in the polls – so quickly after a crushing election defeat. In 11 months I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve seen any news articles at all about “leadership issues”. The NZLP would be so lucky.
While she’s not explicitly taking sides in the current NZLP leadership battle, she has some wise words none the less…
her new autobiography highlights her belief that disappearing completely after she was ousted by Kevin Rudd last year was the only option for the good of the party.
In the book My Story, the former Labor prime minister warns of the dangers of former party leaders sticking around: “It is almost impossible for someone who has been the leader of a political party to accept and thrive in any other role.”
To be honest, I haven’t really had time to keep up with the volumes that has already been written regarding the (current lack of) leadership of the New Zealand Labour Party.
One piece that has however caught my eye is by an Auckland Labour activist, and Young Labour’s international secretary, Will Matthews.
The last few paragraphs succinctly lay out the land as it is for Labour. The only constructive way for the party to move forward is for Cunliffe to stand aside and pass leadership onto a new generation…
I still think that David Cunliffe would make a fantastic Prime Minister. This withdrawal in support is not because of a loss of faith in his ability. However, as I have said, the context that Cunliffe and Labour now find themselves in mean that the longer it takes for a leader to be elected, the less stable the party.
And if David Cunliffe is elected, the party will certainly not be stable. As far as I can see, Grant Robertson is the only realistic contender.
However, if David Cunliffe can outline a clear plan for how he can lead Labour out of the slump that it is in right now, then it is worth seriously considering retaining him. This seems unlikely though.
It’s difficult to say, but unless you can perform miracles, it’s time to go David.
Well said, Will.
The 2014 election was truly extraordinary, and aside from John Key and a handful of Labour candidates in marginal seats, there are far more losers than there are winners.
At only managing 10% of the party vote the Greens have done far worse than anyone expected. They have fallen far short of their target of 15% of the party vote, which many people thought was a fairly conservative goal. Not only that, but they are only marginally ahead of NZ First (party that has an MP so secret no one knows what he did before parliament) as the third largest party in parliament.
To top that off, their conservative party list process has resulted in them only getting one new MP – and they have not made any progress on gender equality or cultural diversity (they still have no Pasifika MPs on a night where Labour put two into safe seats). They had many many talented candidates who are not going to make it.
It will be really interesting to see if any of their longer-standing MPs (Kennedy Graham and Catherine Delahunty in particular) voluntarily retire so the Greens have some fresh blood.
Following the election, Russel Norman & Metiria Turei announced the following achievement of their campaign:
- Over 6000 of you volunteered your time and energy to the campaign.
- We door knocked and phoned 60,000 New Zealanders to talk about our visions.
- We put up 6,500 billboards, delivered 1.8 million leaflets and attended hundreds of community events.
- And 8,800 of you made a donation to help us run our largest campaign ever.
These metrics look pretty decent. If you take a stab in the dark and assume their average donor gave $20 (I suspect it’s actually considerably higher), they made $176,000 online, which certainly isn’t shabby.
I have no idea what these numbers look like for any of the other parties, but it would certainly be an interesting yard stick for Labour to use in the review of their campaign.
But if these numbers look healthy, why did the Greens do so poorly?
Was it because, as Green cheerleader Danyl McLauchlan has said “their billboards were really fucking weird”?
Did they put too much focus into getting money off people and not enough into getting votes?
Did their message just not resonate with the voting public?
Did Laila Harré’s last minute defection to the Internet Party cause massive damage?
Are the Greens even relevant when they try to sell themselves as a party of government while polling at 12%?
No doubt the Greens have considerable soul searching to do. Has the Norman/Turei experiment failed?
One thing is for sure, lots of tweets and celebrity endorsements doesn’t translate into party votes.
Despite goals of 15% and 20 MPs, the Greens only managed to just scrape over 10%, with their only new MP being James Shaw, with Steffan Browning missing out on getting back into Parliament. The Greens traditionally pick up an extra seat off special votes, if they do it will be very interesting to see if Steffan accepts it or takes one for the team so the Greens can at least pretend they have revitalised…
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