I blogged yesterday that I thought David Cunliffe would be the next Leader of the Labour Party.
Today, I wanted to preview how I would go about “selling” DC if he did become Leader.
Some, amongst the beltway, think this is a tough sell, because he is seen to be somewhat lacking in the common touch.
However this overlooks the fact that 95% of New Zealanders will have no firm impression of Cunliffe. Most NZers are not like the blogosphere, where politics is followed on a daily basis.
The first few weeks or months of a new leader, can set a brand which will last for years if done well.
With the benefit of hindsight, Helen Clark did Phil Goff a terrible disservice by resigning on election night, and forcing Goff to become Leader three days after the election. All the media focus was on the new Prime Minister, so Goff never got the benefits of the normal “Who is ….” profiles.
So the first key step for Labour, if they lose the election, is not to allow Goff to resign straight away. He should remain in the job until at least early 2012, which will maximise publicity about the likely new leader, and allow the normal print and broadcast stories on him, introducing him to the public at large.
Then we turn to the substance – how do you sell Cunliffe as different to former Labour leaders, or in other words what would you expect from a Cunliffe-led Labour?
The major brand I would seek to establish for Cunliffe is that he is the first ever Labour Party Leader with a strong business and private sector background. He is not a unionist, an academic or an identity politician. His Labour Party is not an anti-business Labour Party, but a party that understands business.
DC spent four years working for the Boston Consulting Group as an economist and business strategy advisor. BCG is one of the pre-eminent management consulting firms and has appeared for five years in a row as one of Fortune Magazine’s top 15 companies to work for. BCG do not hire low achievers. Other former employees include Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu.
The secondary brand I would seek to establish for Cunliffe is that he is the guy who finally did something about Telecom’s monopolistic behaviour. While it was done on sound public policy grounds (supported by even NBR and Fran O’Sullivan), it was also hugely popular.
It was a ballsy call, which could have ended up in a massive war of attrition, such as happened in Australia with Telstra. But DC managed to get a parliamentary select committee to unanimously back operational separation of Telecom.
So there is an opportunity to brand Cunliffe as someone who understands and supports business, but also willing to stand up to big business when their actions hurt every day New Zealanders.
I think that would see a fair number of New Zealanders saying, hey we might give this guy a go.
Of course the challenge will be to actually deliver sensible policies, and a united team, that supports those policies. That is far from guaranteed. But if Labour do elect Cunliffe, and Cunliffe can establish a positive brand, then the 2014 election could be competitive.