Hooton on opposition strategy

Former general secretary Mike Smith responds to Rob Salmond on what should be Labour’s strategy:

Thanks to Rob Salmond and Josie Pagani, it is now clear that Labour’s pitch to the  centre is an intentional strategy. That is helpful as now perhaps we can have a reasonable discussion about how well it’s working, and what else might work better. …

In what is presumably Rob’s moderating policy option, attacking teacher and beneficiary straw men isn’t aspirational. It’s telling them they’re all crap. And it’s no answer to the truck-driver’s challenge.

The trouble is Labour stlll sounds miserable. Using another of Rob’s options they seem to be trying to alter voters’ perceptions of National, by relentless oppositional criticism of what National’s doing wrong. The problem with this is that it creates the impression that they don’t know what to do about it themselves. National is doing a good enough job of getting it wrong all by itself. It doesn’t need a lot of extra help.

Rob makes a crucial  point about the importance of timeframes. The next election is now a little over two years away. At some stage Labour has to look and sound like an alternative government, with relevant policies and messages that resonate with the teacher, the truckdriver, and the beneficiary. Right now would be a good time to start getting it together.

In a comment on that thread Matthew Hooton gives some pro bono advice on how to be an effective opposition:

I hope you don’t mind me helping, but what an opposition should do is choose a high-profile and unpopular target, with which the government is associated and is required to defend, and attack it. The choice of the target should also define a positive message for the opposition.

The best example of this in recent time is of course Don Brash and his infamous Orewa speech (which readers of the Hollow Men will know I opposed and which I give only as an example of the theory rather than suggesting Shearer follow the same policy path).

Brash’s positive policy message was “One Law For All” but Bill English had been banging away on that for years. What Brash did was attack the unpopular treaty industry etc, the Labour govt felt obliged to defend it, the public decided which side it was on (National’s), and Brash would have become prime minister had he not been caught flirting with the loony Christian right. …

Similarly, in the early 1990s, when he was leaving National, Winston Peters attacked Fay Richwhite and others involved in the winebox. They were undoubtedly unpopular but National appeared to defend them by refusing to have an inquiry. Again, that worked pretty well for Peters and note that while his message was framed negatively – “Fay Richwhite are crooks” – there was also an underlying positive message: “Winston Peters will make the rich pay their taxes”.

Earlier, on a bigger stage, David Lange followed the same path when he attacked nuclear ships. National and the US defended nuclear ships. Labour’s vote increased between 1984 and 1987. …

Also note, the target can be anything as long as it is unpopular, bound to be defended by your opponents and says something about you by your choice of it. A National opposition can attack “overbearing unions” or “political correctness gone mad”. The obvious one for Labour is “big business”.

We await the first Labour Party speech attacking big business!

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