Monday, August 06, 2007

What David Cameron Can Learn from the Kiwis

You may not have heard of John Key. He is the new leader of the opposition National Party in New Zealand. In his first few months he has made quite an impact against the ageing Labour government of Helen Clark. David Farrer, who writes the most popular blog in New Zealand, Kiwiblog, reckons his novel strategy is a winner...
Rob Hosking had an article in last week’s NBR about how Opposition Leaders are normally not as positive as John Key is. And he doesn’t mean positive and cheery in
terms of personal demeanour (even though Key certainly is that). He means positive about NZ’s future. Normally the Opposition Leader portrays NZ on the
edge of Armageddon, and only by them becoming Prime Minister will the country be saved. Bolger did this in 1990, Clark in 1999. But in almost every speech Key gives, he starts off saying how he thinks NZ has a great future ahead, and the next 30 years could be wonderful with demand climbing for our dairy and other agricultural products. He then of courses shares his concerns. The brain drain, the school dropout rate etc. But he makes clear that he is not saying NZ is stuffed if they don’t change. He’s saying that NZ will miss out on opportunities, will fail to achieve its
potential and the gap will just get bigger between us and Western Europe, with Eastern Europe becoming our new benchmates. Also lacking from most of his speeches is the harsh criticism of the incumbents. Other MPs do that, and Key certainly will throw some barbs, but usually with humour rather than outrage.
It’s a novel strategy for an Opposition Leader. Not totally new. In 1935 the then Opposition Leader did much the same. Now I’m not saying there are any similarities, just that 1935 was remarkable for how Savage conducted his campaign.
It will be interesting to see whether the tone changes, as the election comes closer. For now, it certainly seems to be a winning strategy.

In some ways it reflects the first few months of David Cameron's leaderhsip of the Conservative Party. I reckon he'd do well to revisit it. It's possible to attack the government in a positive way. John Key is showing how to do it.

There's actually nothing new in this, but it's amazing how often politicians think they can only win by attacking the other side in a vicious way. Reagan beat Carter because he was optimistic about a country in a deep malaise. Margaret Thatcher won, at least in part, because she was an optimist. Tony Blair certainly did. David Cameron and his senior colleagues must avoid being tainted with aggressive negativity. The constant barage of press releases coming out of CCHQ, rightly pointing out the government's failings, must be more than balanced with a recognition that all is not bad in the land and we have a great future ahead of us if we play it right.


Machiavelli's Understudy said...

Well it beats slagging off those who disagree with you...

Liam Murray said...

I completely agree with the electoral advantages of presenting a positive and optimistic outlook - I'm less sure of the notion of 'attacking in a positive way'.

Oppositions may have a responsibility to bring certain issues to the fore and help articulate and focus public concern but it's a very fine line between doing that and knowing when to back off because the public didn't 'bite'. Governments fall not because oppositions change the public view of them but because the public changes it's own mind and then 'notices', as it were, an opposition that seems to understand their concerns. Taken with the notion of adopting a positive outlook this means we need to be very wary of talk of 'summer offensives' etc. against Brown (something you've lent support to elsewhere Iain).

The perception that we understand how grave something is and we should just bang on and on about it until everyone else gets it (tax & immigration previously and perhaps now the EU constitution?) is part of our problem - it reeks of arrogance and obsession. Let's try and capture the public mood rather than attempt to shape it...

Johnny Norfolk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Norfolk said...

Labour came to power by attacking the Conservatives at every oppotunity, if you can remember.

If Cameron does not start to attack Labour at every oppotunity, he will be continue to be seen as weak and an out of touch Etonion do gooder. This is not New Zealand, a smaller country where a more balanced attitude may succeed.

I see Cameron has lost another large doner who is not happy with his out of touch position.

The Conservative party has become the silent party. We hear nothing from them because they have nothing to say.

Madasafish said...

hglgankz"The constant barage of press releases coming out of CCHQ, "


Most of which are ignored... the CP strategy in getting its message across relies on Press Releases? No wonder it's a failure..

Newmania said...

I `m not sure Iain there is room for good old hate too.I think the venom must come from independent voices or at least from peripheral figures. You have to fight in what you might think of as discrete enagagements at all levels. Thus there is room for a tireless nit picker like Dizzy and a handsome square jawed idealist in whose noble brown you can see the chnage is coming . Like me:)

BTW I have just noticed that irrelevant as I am ,I am of considerably more importnant than David Antsee the Deputy Chairman of a Party of 12 . We `ve got an awful lot more members than that...Newmania`s Conservative membership card will have to be pulled from his cold dead hand., if then ! ...Theres your headline !

dr spyn said...

Has CMD bothered to read Alistair Campbell's book whilst on holiday? By all means set out visions for the future, but don't forget to go after a government when things go wrong. Foot and Mouth and Floods may be symptomatic of Blair and Broon's failure to improve infrastructre and the less 'sexy' aspects of govrnment responsibilites. If it can be shown that there are governmental failures at this or any other level, don't let the bastards off the hook. If modernisation of Britain is a NuLab priority, why is it that flood defences and animal health laboratories are so neglected? Ultimately 'Call Me Dave' has to show that he is able to offer a clear alternative politcal strategy for the UK to that offered by McStalin Broon, but he has to go for the jugular as well. As Campbell suggests Broon is and was highly regarded as having a clear politcal purpose, and the public want to see that DC and the Tories can offer something more effective.

I'd love to say that I'm impressed with DC's ability to land telling blows on McStalin Broon's reputation for prudence and good government, but so far I can't.

John Coles said...

Mr Cameron is irascible, humourless and prone to panic: such is his character and therein lie the seeds of his future electoral defeat.

pxcentric said...

So when are you going to come up with something more intelligent than your normal dreary negativity?

Ralph said...


Isn't the best tactic to both attack Labour day in day out, and offer youself as a positive alternative?

Also the Tories have to get themselves heard.

Frances said...

I know this is off topic but does anyone know a good blog on American politics? I ask because some of you guys obviously know about NZ political blogging.

Bob Piper said...

Cassilis, as so often, gets it spot on and shows how much his splendid blog is missed. Believe it or not people don't like politicians twittering away in the media about how bad their country is. In the local elections around here our lib dem opponent spent the whole campaign telling people what a gruesome town they lived in under Labour. We never mentioned our opponents even existed but did offer people ten good reasons why they should vote Labour. The result: an increased Labour majority.

ahs benton said...

I see another disillusioned donor has walked.

Not worth a mention of course.

Anonymous said...

The Conservatives can be as upbeat and positive as they want but unless the electorate's listening to them it's completely pointless.

It's a truism that Government's lose elections. Opposition Parties don't win them and unless something unexpected happens to Gordon's standing in the polls,the nation is "sleepwalking" to a 4th Labour Term .

Anonymous said...

It's a truism that Government's lose elections. Opposition Parties don't win them and unless something unexpected happens to Gordon's standing in the polls,the nation is "sleepwalking" to a 4th Labour Term .

In the land of the Blind the one-eyed man is King....

Pogo said...

The big difference, as I see it, between NZ and the UK is that NZ isn't "stuffed" whereas we are.

Newmania said...

ten good reasons why they should vote Labour

1We will tax working people and give it to you gratis ( beam)
2 We will keep you idle public sector non jobs at the expemse of the tax Payer
3 Should you commit a crime we will ensure you spend no time in prison
4 We will keep you safe from your own Liberty by watching you twenty four hours on CCTV
5 If you are a Doctor we can offer£300,000 pa
6 Policemen , the opportunity to be unaccountable .
7 Public sector -We offer you gold plated pensions and a good laugh at the idiots paying for it .
8 Single mothers - Free flat, no work an income of up to £35,000 pa and as many boyfriends as you like

I `m struggling ,...any more ?

The Hitch said...

Lets face it this optimistic , praise the other guy strategy is working brilliantly isnt it?
For gordon Brown that is.
This country is stufed and irs about to get a lot more stuffed when brown approves the EU constitution.
Cameron said "I like this country the way it is"
Fine vote labour then.

Newmania said...

9 Teachers-The opportunity to cointinue to fail to educate children and yet remain employed with rising fake exam results
10 ...

there has to be one ?

Ralph said...


It's not a blog but try Real Clear Politics.

Andrew Ian Dodge said...

For the straight head Republican line there is Right of centre but with a tinge of libertarianism, biker rock and attitude is And there is which is run by someone advising Sen Susan Collins on her campaign and is well informed politically.

These three are all political blogs that take a slightly different view of the right. Then there is always Powerline ( blog.

Frances said...

Thanks for the tips on US political blog/comment sites - I'll bookmark all your suggestions!

Sea Shanty Irish said...

Think Iain has a good point about the advantages of an optimistic approach to negative campaigning. Ronald Reagan was truly a master at this, as was Margaret Thatcher in her own way. Ditto Bill Clinton and (I would argue) Barack Obama.

BUT getting back to NEW ZEALAND methinks that Iain and the NZ National Party are counting their chickens before they’re hatched. True, NZ Nats currently enjoy a ten-point lead over NZ Labour . . . but previous Nat leads in the past have NOT born fruit on Election Day.

In the past decade the Nats have had FIVE leaders:
-- in 1997 sitting Nat PM Jim Bolger was toppled in intra-party coup by Jenny Shipley, who lost the 1999 election to Labour led by Helen Clark, who has been PM ever since.
--in 2001 Shipley was replaced as leader by Bill English, who in 2002 election led Nats to their worst defeat ever.
--in 2003 English was replaced by Don Brash who campaigned hard on race relations and tax cuts brought the Nats back to within 2 seat of Labour in the 2005 election; however, much of the gain was achieved by cannibalizing (apologies to Borish Johnson for stealing one of his favorite images) support for rightwing small parties, with the result that the Nats had limited potential for successful coalition-building, which is the name of the game in the NZ modified proportional representation system.
-in 2006 Brash was replaced by John Key, who has working hard to shift the Nats image toward the center in preparation for the 2008 election; hence his “positive” charm offensive.

Now leader #5 may prove to be the charm for the Nats, and John Key may be the tool they need to unlock the secrets of electoral success against the VERY formidable Helen Clark. But I wouldn’t bet the farm on it just yet.

Barnsley Bill said...

The situation in New Zealand is quite extraordinary at the moment, we have a 3rd term labour government that from the very outset of their tenure have worked to undermine free speech and the law. One of the first acts by the PM Helen Clarke was to gut the top ranks of our once proud police force and is now in a position where the many investigations into Her and senior members of her party are quietly ignored by the partisan cops at national HQ.
Their latest effort is an electoral reform bill making illegal almost all paid comment/ advertising in the 12 months preceding an election. This will in effect handicap the opposition parties from relying on outside support to promote their message and policy whilst allowing labour to use the not inconsiderable resources of every govt dept to broadcast “public information campaigns” to all and sundry. There is of course one exception to the new draconian muzzling of free speech…….. The unions!
As to John key, he is a unique individual, working class product of a single parent family who dragged himself up and went on to hold very senior positions overseas making a small fortune in the process. He has given up a successful career to come home and make a difference. This is in stark contrast to a prime minister that has never worked in paid employment outside public service and a Number 2 in the form of Michael Cullen who was a history lecturer prior to entering politics and now controls the Judiciary and GF Finance. The same Cullen who comes from a comfy Middle Class English background but had the temerity to call the genuinely working class John Key a class traitor.
Interesting times ahead over the next 12 months down under.

Vol-in-Law said...

"Reagan beat Carter because he was optimistic about a country in a deep malaise..."

'It's morning in Britain?'

I think a positive vision of the future is very important, but accepting that all is not well as things stand is an important part of that. Claiming things are mostly just fine as they stand goes against that.

Vol-in-Law said...

Frances - re US political blogs, View From the Right is good for a traditionalist conservative perspective:

It's certainly made me think about how conservatism differs from classical-liberalism (often called conservatism these days) as well as from cultural Marxism (often called liberalism, at least in the USA).