Reviewing the review

The envelope on which NZ Labour’s campaign review was written on the back of has unsurprisingly been leaked. Expect a witch hunt to distract from just how sub-standard the review is.

The content of the review, and lack-thereof, offer a fascinating insight into a party in turmoil. The actual 2014 general election campaign is skimmed over – most of the focus of the review instead seems to be the party’s organisational structures.

I’m going to go through the review and offer some thoughts. Starting with part 1 – General Election 2014.

Part 1 – General Election 2014

1A Campaign organisation

The late start under a changed leadership team left too little time to allow Labour to prepare and implement an effective campaign. In general, Labour’s campaign preparation was inadequate.

The new leadership team should make an immediate start on developing and implementing a coordinated strategic plan for contesting the 2017 election. A small and properly constituted Campaign Committee should be established at least a year out from the election and should be charged with preparing and implementing a campaign strategy which achieves buy-in from everyone, from the leader down.

While I don’t really disagree with the sentiment here, I find it an odd thing to open the review with (defensively stating “we didn’t have enough time”). David Cunliffe had a year between taking over as leader and the general election – which oddly is the lead time the review recommends for the setup of a campaign committee. I actually thought that the campaign committee was a standing committee, and if it isn’t, it should be. With three year terms no political party can afford to take two years off from campaigning.

1B Candidate selection

Candidate selection on the whole worked well and produced some excellent candidates. Late candidate selection hampered some 2014 electorate campaigns.

There should be a strategy developed for early selections and electorates with limited potential to generate a significant candidate pool. Attention should be paid to the transparency and fairness of the process for drawing up the list and to the structure of the list.

Oh candidate selection worked well, did it? The late selection bit is rubbish too – it is one area where Labour actually did really well. Six months out from the election Labour had selected all but seven electorate candidates, well ahead of Nats, Greens and NZ First.

Yes there should be a strategy developed for early selections, but this was done following the 2012 Coatsworth/Shearer review. What this review needed to do was ask *why* didn’t it happen – or is it simply misinformed.

1D Fundraising

The campaign was undoubtedly hindered by a shortage of financial resources. The finance available was less than in earlier campaigns, though only a little less by comparison with 2011. Labour must do better in this respect in 2017. Labour must build greater confidence in its ability to win and to form a successful government, and – in addition to building its database of online donors – it must use high – level business and other contacts, supported by a strengthened group of professional fundraisers on the staff team, in approaching the corporate sector and other potential sources of funding for donations.

We need more money. This could pretty much be the title of the review. Let’s see if any action is actually taken.

1E Leadership

Perceptions of tension around the leadership and disunity within caucus seriously undermined Labour’s credibility with voters and frustrated any attempt to present a Party that was ready for government.

It is imperative that Labour acts – and is seen to act – as a disciplined and coherent team that is ready for government if it is to win the trust of voters in 2017. As a key element of this process, the senior leadership team within Caucus should be given greater prominence and responsibility throughout the three years.

Yes, leadership was a problem. However the review conveniently ignores the harsh reality that the party was facing an election with a deeply unpopular leader. I’d be interested to know if this review panel has actually seen the research the party did on leadership? Yes, caucus disunity was a problem for David Cunliffe, but only in so far as it had been for every single Labour leader before him. Though I don’t have any hard stats to back this up, I actually think the party and caucus seemed pretty united during the campaign, and I certainly don’t recall any leaks against the leader (as had happened previously).

Sadly, the recommendation the review provides (giving the senior leadership team in caucus more prominence and responsibility) doesn’t really seem to be a solution to any problem, real or imagined.

So, we’re at the end of the General Election 2014 section of the review, and we have the following recommendations:

1. Form a campaign committee a year out from the election.

2. There should be a strategy for early selections. The list selection process should be “transparent and fair”.

3. More resources are needed for training candidates, campaign managers and volunteers (this was 1C, which I haven’t covered because it’s totally uncontroversial)

4. We need more money, and to do that we need more professional fundraisers in head office.

5. Giving the senior leadership team in caucus more prominence and responsibility.

I challenge any member of the Labour Party to take a look at that list and tell me that it adequately addresses the problems Labour’s campaign in 2014 faced.

Part 2 – Policy and Positioning

This section has a list of policy and positioning recommendations which it tells us are not actually recommendations, because they first need to be passed to the Policy Council and then the Media and Communications Unit in the Leader’s Office. I’m going to ignore it, as the party almost certainly will (after Patrick Gower has finished mocking 2G).

Part 3 – Party Governance and Organisation

This truly is the strangest part of the review. It goes from making recommendations based on problems Labour faced in 2014, to just making stuff up. I’ll try and summarise, but forgive me if I end up rambling, due to the nature of the subject matter.

3A – Party legal status

This is an issue I’ve heard about before, and still to this day don’t really understand (the review doesn’t go into much detail). I don’t know why it was a problem, or what the review is recommending, so hopefully the new general secretary will be able to finally resolve this.

3B – National level organistational structure 

This section a series of recommendations. Sadly the review doesn’t mention what problem they are trying to address. Here is what they suggest:

1. A new sub-committee of NZ Council, the Executive, which would include the Leader, President, two senior Vice Presidents, General Secretary, and three Party members elected directly by the membership. Tasked with developing and implementing campaign strategy as well as selection criteria.

2. Maintaining and expanding the NZ Council to include an ethnic representative.

3. A Campaign Committee to be appointed by NZ Council.

4. Sector groups to be reviewed (yes, this review recommends more reviewing).

5. Te Kaunihera Māori, the Māori section of the Party , should also undertake a review (are we seeing a pattern here?).

As I said earlier, I don’t really know what the problem is the review is trying to address here. I would actually assume that the new Executive and Campaign Committees would conflict and potentially hinder each other’s work.

3C – Local organising

The recommendations in this section are a mess. They recommend cementing the LEC (electorate committee) as the main unit of power, not abolishing branches but removing any power they have. It also recommends finally abolishing regional councils, which should have happened when Hubs were implemented. However it still leaves in place the regional reps on NZ Council (which will never be allowed to get smaller) and regional conferences will never die. Sadly review doesn’t touch on how the “Hub” organisational model worked or didn’t in the general election.

3D – Affiliates 

Precis: the affiliation model is broken (also, we get no money from them).

The main recommendation that there should be a working group to “examine the most effective way for affiliates to be integrated into a campaign strategy.” And it also handily points out that the money gained from unions is small, but doesn’t have any recommendations on what to do about that.

3E – Candidates

I’m going to quote the first line of this section: “The real question appears to be how the Party identifies candidates and then prepares and supports its candidates before, during and after the election.”

I’m sorry, does it?

It also then goes on to say:

“One of the most criticised aspects of the last election was the process for selection of list candidates”

Really? Not the fact that you got 25% of the Party Vote?

It then goes on to make the following recommendations to change this ‘problem’:

1. Any member with 10 signatures should be able to nominate for the list (this is raising the current threshold, but it’s still so low it doesn’t matter).

2. All nominations should be vetted (and presumably vetoed) by a three-person “Vetting Committee”.

3. Moderating Committee should change to being composed of the NZ Council + 4 members of caucus (does that include the members that already sit on NZ Council).

These three recommendations are the most incredible thing in the review. They’re proposing to centralise power in a way that would make Muldoon blush. While they complain about a lack of democracy and transparency, their recommendations propose the opposite. Amazing.

3F – Fundraising

The main recommendation here is to put in place a capital fund to pay for campaigns. And to do that they want to “unlock the significant resources held by local entities of the Party”. Good luck with that.

 

At the end of the day this review is a mess. However the biggest problem will be if the party focusses on the guff in it (I can already imagine the fights that changes to LEC and regional council rules will cause) and continues to ignore the very real political problems it faces – which remain largely unaddressed.

Given this review is a waste of the envelope it was written on, it will be interesting to see how the new leader and president react (I can’t imagine the current General Secretary doing much to improve the situation).

Digital campaigning in New Zealand

There are few people who would doubt that digital is becoming an increasingly important component of political campaigns. Sadly I can no longer find the source for this graph, but it’s one that I’ve shown a few times recently to convey that both sides of politics are embracing digital as an increasingly large chunk of their campaign expenditure (in the US at least).

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One of the quaint things about election campaigns in New Zealand is the disclosure of electoral expenses, in order to enforce their spending caps. This allows us to very accurately examine what political parties are spending, and what they are spending it on.

Now that the 2014 election expenses have been released I’ve been able to compile what the various parties spent online, and there are some interesting numbers… (data here if you can’t see the full table)

Social Media Websites Display Ads Misc Digital Total Digital Spend Total Spend % Digital
National $38,214.39 $27,791.44 $393,772.70 $459,778.53 $2,558,211.53 18.0%
Labour $22,353.13  $1,236.30  $85,445.91 $109,033.34 $1,269,298.91 8.6%
Greens $33,099.63 $33,804.42 $52,433.96 $119,338.01 $1,291,419.81 9.2%
NZ First $1,518.00 $1,518.00 $268,530.23 0.6%
Maori $6,621.70 $6,621.70 $202,562.12 3.3%
ACT $30,704.66 $30,704.66 $294,406.09 10.4%
Conservative $5,292.00 $5,292.00 $1,914,072.38 0.3%
Internet Mana $230.00 $40,966.58 $19,237.20 $310.50 $60,744.28 $660,574.07 9.2%

While I wasn’t surprised to see that both the Greens and Internet Mana spent a large proportion of their budget online (at 9.2% it’s a higher proportion than the 2012 Obama campaign) – to be honest I was surprised the Internet Mana party didn’t spend more. The only other minor party that made a substantial investment was ACT – presumably getting David Seymour’s video far and wide.

What is surprising is both the huge proportion of their budget that National spent online (18% is much higher than I’ve seen in any other political campaign). As well as investing reasonably heavily in social media and a rather good looking website, they totally saturated online display advertising. It looks like they totally dominated in this space.

By contrast not only did Labour spend a tiny amount of money, but even the proportion of their total spend on digital was small.

This led me to wonder what this looked like compared to the 2011 election. So I dug out those numbers and compared…

Total Digital Spend 2011 Total Spend 2011 % Digital 2011 Change between 2014 and 2011
National $118,078.73 $2,321,216.06 5.1% +12.9%
Labour $98,790.34 $1,789,151.95 5.5% +3.1%
Greens $95,596.93 $779,618.38 12.3% -3.0%
NZ First $558.90 $155,902.86 0.4% +0.2%
Maori $- $72,172.56 0.0% +3.3%
ACT $41,347.10 $617,035.18 6.7% +3.7%
Conservative $5,300.55 $1,878,337.22 0.3% 0%
Internet Mana $500.00 $60,082.91 0.8% +8.4%

Surprisingly the Greens dropped their digital spend as a proportion of their total campaign budget, but I imagine this is probably because their total campaign budget was so much larger this time, and much of their additional resource was allocated to TV. They still spent almost three times as much online in 2014 as they did in 2011.

While National outspent Labour and the Greens on digital in 2011, they dramatically increased their spend in 2014. To be honest, I’m really taken back by it. You don’t think of the Nats as being on the cutting edge of campaigning, but I’ve never seen a political party invest so heavily in digital media before. Let’s hope the new look Labour team decide to do things a bit differently.

Notes

This data has been hand coded from the election expense results. There will be data entry errors on my part.

I’ve broken the 2014 data down into three sub-categories of digital spend: social media, websites and digital display advertising. Apologies for not doing this with the 2011 data.

I’ve compared the 2014 Internet Mana party with the 2011 Mana Party – very different beasts.

If you have trouble viewing this data on my blog, you can see the spreadsheet.

Update

I’ve been contacted by Labour to point out some of the digital spending in their expense that I missed, I have updated accordingly and removed a paragraph from my post that is now inaccurate with the new figures. If anyone else spots mistakes or omissions I’m more than happy to make corrections.

 

Why Labour Did Not Did Not Win

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.

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A party in disarray

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.

The Greens’ new caucus

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…

MP Seat
Metiria Turei List
Russel Norman List
Kevin Hague List
Eugenie Sage List
Gareth Hughes List
Catherine Delahunty List
Kennedy Graham List
Julie Anne Genter List
Mojo Mathers List
Jan Logie List
Dave Clendon List
James Shaw List
Denise Roche List

Labour’s new caucus

It’s brutal. My expectations weren’t great, but this loss is much worse than I predicted. Labour’s worst defeat since 1922.

Here is Labour’s new caucus…

MP Seat
David Cunliffe New Lynn
David Parker List
Grant Robertson Wellington Central
Annette King Rongotai
Jacinda Ardern List
Nanaia Mahuta Hauraki Waikato
Phil Twyford Te Atatu
Clayton Cosgrove List
Chris Hipkins Rimutaka
Sue Moroney List
Andrew Little List
Louisa Wall Manurewa
David Shearer Mt Albert
Su’a William Sio Mangere
Phil Goff Mt Roskill
Kelvin Davis Te Tai Tokerau
Meka Whaitiri Ikaroa Rawhiti
Megan Woods Wigram
Damien O’Connor West Coast-Tasman
Iain Lees-Galloway Palmerston North
David Clark Dunedin North
Poto Williams Christchurch East
Carmel Sepuloni Kelston
Jenny Salesa Manukau East
Adrian Rurawhe Te Tai Hauāuru
Clare Curran Dunedin South
Rino Tirikatene Te Tai Tonga
Ruth Dyson Port Hills
Stuart Nash Napier
Trevor Mallard Hutt South
Kris Faafoi Mana
Peeni Henare Tamaki Makaurau

Gone are Maryan Street, Moana Mackey, Raymond Huo and Carol Beaumont.

The Māori seats

One of the pecularities of MMP is that because of the proportional representation provided by the party vote, there is virtually no electoral benefit to winning electorate seats (there are other political benefits, which I’ve touched on previously). So even though it looks like a few seats like Napier and Christchurch Central might come down to the wire, the outcome isn’t going to change who forms government.

The one exception to that is of course parties that use the “coat-tailing” rule – that is, they get less than 5% of the party vote but still get an electorate MP and possibly some list MPs due to winning an electorate seat.

Given the survival of the Māori and Internet Mana parties both rely on winning a Māori electorate seat (as they are both polling consistently below 5%), these seven seats can actually have a very important impact on the makeup of Parliament.

One of the other unique things about the Maori seats is that they are the only electorate seats that regularly get polled. Māori TV have commissioned a series of polls from Reid Research (and TVNZ’s Marae used to also poll). I’ve compiled this years poll results, plus the results from the 2011 election and the 2011 poll results (where I can find them – if anyone has any of the missing numbers please send them through!).

It’s worth taking these results with a grain of salt – the sample sizes are very small (normally 400) and that, combined with poor turnout in the Māori seats make for lots of inaccuracies.

That said, today’s Te Tai Tokerau poll is the tightest yet – with Hone Harawira polling only one point ahead of Labour’s Kelvin Davis. If Kelvin manages to win the seat (and a good turnout operation could certainly help close that gap), then the Hone Harawira/Kim Dotcom farce is over.

Interesting times indeed.

Note: All numbers are candidate, not party vote.

Electorate Candidate 2011 poll 2011 result 2014 poll
Te Tai Tokerau Labour 35 35 37
Māori Party 20 16 9
Mana 42 41 38
Greens
Tāmaki Makaurau Labour 23 35 27
Māori Party 58 40 28
Mana 14 16 14
Greens 3 8 7
Waiariki Labour 22 25 17
Māori Party 56 43 50
Mana 22 32 21
Greens 2
Hauraki-Waikato Labour ? 54 57
Māori Party ? 16 14
Mana ? 21 10.4
Greens
Ikaroa Rāwhiti Labour ? 41 37
Māori Party ? 20 18
Mana ? 26 21
Greens ? 11 6
Te Tai Hauāuru Labour ? 30 29
Māori Party ? 48 32
Mana ? 9 10
Greens ? 11 11
Te Tai Tonga Labour 35 41 48
Māori Party 46 32 17
Mana 9 8 9
Greens 10 15 9

Time to show some leadership

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With all due respect to my friends and colleagues who are brave enough to put themselves forward for election, it is inevitable that a candidate will say something regrettable, or downright stupid, during the course of a campaign. A friend of mine with considerable campaign experience in the UK fondly tells us that they had a term that they used to refer to candidates: the legal requirement.

So as painful as it is to see two Labour candidates say downright stupid things in public, it is something that is so predictable that dealing with it should almost just be part of your campaign plan.

The saddest part about the current situation though, is it could easily be turned into a positive for Labour, but Cunliffe doesn’t seem so keen to take the advantage. As reported in Stuff, this is his current reaction…

Labour leader David Cunliffe is refusing to say whether supporters should vote for two of his candidates, after both had unusual outbursts.

Here we can see Cunliffe is trying to tread a very awkward middle ground. He isn’t prepared to cut them loose, but he’s also not outright supporting them.

For a strong leader, the decision should be nearly automatic: condemn them and cut them loose.

It is a simple cost/benefit decision. These are not candidates that Labour desperately needs to win marginal seats, so the potential loss of votes from hammering them is pretty low. On the other hand, by cutting them loose and acting like a decisive leader, Cunliffe could have turned this sorry little saga into a positive for him, and potentially picked up a few party votes elsewhere for acting like a leader.

At this stage in the game, Labour needs to be looking for all the advantages it can get. This story is probably now going to drag on for a couple more days, with Cunliffe looking indecisive. Which is never an attribute people will vote for.

 

I’ve voted.

This morning I cast my vote in the 2014 New Zealand general election, from Australia. Took less than five minutes in total, in fact easier than going down to the local voting booth and waiting in line.

If you’re a New Zealand elector who is overseas, and has been home anytime in the last three years, you can vote too. All the details are at www.elections.org.nz/overseas

Also, if any of my readers are in Melbourne and are keen to help out with a get out the vote phone bank for NZ Labour on September 20th, send me an email and let me know. NZ Election watching party to follow!

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NZ Greens – quick on the photocopiers

Environment Victoria have got a rather clever print campaign going in support of renewable energy. This went to print in The Age yesterday… [via Twitter]

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It didn’t take the NZ Greens long to get their solar powered photocopier up and running…

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Imitation really is the best form of flattery 🙂