Last night John Key was on Campbell Live. He was charming, authentic, funny and likeable. He will be incredibly tough to beat. But the Left needs to beat Key if they want to win the election.
It’s no secret that ‘Teflon John’ is National’s greatest asset. Whether it’s Collins’ or Parata’s screw-ups, or the corruption of Banks or Nick Smith, nothing makes a dent in National’s popularity. As I’ve discussed in a previous post, I believe this is because Key is so far above the rest of his party that his MP’s errors don’t affect the public’s view of him. So, as I’ve already argued, I think a decapitation strike may be necessary. There’s no point talking about National’s errors when people aren’t voting for National; they’re voting for Key.
So how can we take down Key? I believe one effective way is by tying Key to National’s blunders. Whether the problem stems from an ineffective Minister (Parata or Guy), poor behaviour by a Minister (Collins and Oravida), or from failed/unpopular policies (asset sales), John Key’s name needs to be all over it. He must be tied down. But how?
Well, first we need to consider our audience. Whatever identity marker you choose, our audience is not our fellow leftists. This means they are probably several of the following; lacking a bachelor’s degree (i.e., about 80% of NZ), provincial, and probably not that interested in politics. These people are our neighbours, our workmates, and our family members.
Secondly, we need to determine what tactics are appropriate for this audience. I argue that since this group is likely less interested in politics and probably not well versed in social or fiscal policy, simple messages are the best (a bit of a no-brainer, I admit). But which simple messages?
I think the one of the better ways to tie Key to the inadequacies of his government is with clear, intuitive statements that don’t require logical or abstract thought. This rules out complex logic chains, and jargon that many on the Left seem to prefer. Claiming Key is a ‘neoliberal’ does not resonate with many kiwis (and is probably not even true). Similarly, claiming that Key’s policies ‘legitimise’ anything discriminatory is also ineffective.
Instead, I believe highlighting Key’s role as ‘boss of National’ is a clearer, more intuitive line of attack. National has done a lot to annoy people. We need to remind swing votes and soft vote blue votes that these things happened because John Key wanted them too. I think comments like; “John Key thought it was a great idea”, “John Key signed off on that”, “John Key wanted that happen”, or “John Key thought that was fine” (et cetera) are effective here.
This can also be applied to his Ministers. Hekia Parata may be useless, but John Key is keeping her there. John Banks might be corrupt, but John Key tolerates corruption. A minister might be crap, but John Key keeps them on. He appointed them to role and approved their actions.
The same approach can apply to policies. For example, John Key isn’t nice -he wants to mine your national parks. John Key isn’t a regular bloke -he’s taking away your snapper. John Key isn’t a good guy -he closes schools. John Key isn’t a regular bloke -he does dodgy deals with rich Chinese investors. John Key is not looking out for kiwis -he’s leaving Christchurch in ruins.
Presidential politics is the new normal, whether the Left likes it or not. We can either adapt or be left behind. Cunliffe is a smooth performer, and has a natural sense for a good sound bite. Once the leader’s debates start, he’ll be in much better form. In the meantime we need to remind people that voting for Key is voting for the less likeable National party.