Political Business

Lessons on political strategy

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When academics turn lobbyists

A new lobbying technique uses academic research to expose other ‘lobbying’.

A fascinatingly novel political move is hijacking academic research formats to question the validity of the democratic process.

An Australian study claims that the proposition of “unsubstantiated” views in presentations to formal Parliamentary proceedings delayed the introduction of alcohol labeling.

The study by the Society for the Study of Addiction says arguments by the alcohol industry delayed the introduction of mandatory alcohol health warning labels in Australia by

questioning the rationale and evidence base for labels; arguing that they will cause damage to public health and the economy; lobbying and seeking to influence government and political representatives including through monetary donations; and introducing its own voluntary labelling scheme. 

In other words, the alcohol industry did the things they’re allowed to do in a democracy. The politicians listened to those, along with opposing  opinions, and made their own decision.

The use of the “research” format co-opts the rigour and independence expected of research, to use it for a very political end. It’s a great tactic.

It’s powerful because not only does it question the argument of your opposition, it infers that they have less right to use the democratic process. It undermines your opposition more than you could if you only offered up your own counter evidence through the democratic system.

The approach follows in the recent footsteps of those using academic research to undermine political opponents by labeling them as psychologically troubled. See ideologically-motivated academics claiming climate deniers are likely to be conspiracy theorists, less able to be fearful of non-immediate threats than others, ill-equipped for moral judgements.

h/t: @cjsnowdon

Filed under lobbying academics lobbying tactics climate change alcohol

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Labour’s feel-good list

Labour’s intent to manufacture social outcomes is as strong as it ever was.

Labour’s next conference will vote on a remit originating from the highest levels of the Party that it “pro-actively” select Party List members so they represent special interests.

This means the list will need to cover sexual orientation, tangata whenua, gender, ethnic groups, people with disabilities, age and youth.

The Party is also looking to move to a 50:50 gender split among future candidates.

The General Secretary, Tim Barnett, says the matter is about “stuff which is internal”.

That’s partly true because this represents a struggle for influence and control over the Party. 

The reality is that the matter is very public. It affects New Zealand voters, particularly Labour voters, because the list will be ‘stacked’, resulting in a very particular type of Parliamentary Party. Are these people representing the life styles and biology which get them onto the list, or the interests of people who vote for the Party?

A stacked list shifts the Party firmly into ‘symbolism politics’; where support is gained by appealing in symbolic ways to special interest groups. It moves away from holding values and policies designed to appeal to people who share a common ideology.  

A Party which believes that it can manufacture a social outcome for itself, is very likely to believe it can do so in society at large.

Filed under labour list symbolism ideology political symbolism gender politics special interest

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Over selling

A rule in professional life is to manage expectations; don’t over promise, but over-deliver.

Despite the professionalisation of politicians, the desperation of popularity drives them to ignore this rule.

They regularly inflate the likely results and reasons for their planned policies. Then they inflate the actual results, and change the reasons, once the policies play out.

The “inflating expectations” approach helps politicians feel they are winning the immediate popularity contest. But it means they are always losing contests they’d attempted to win this way in the past. All those exaggerated promises are regularly returning for explanation as to why it didn’t turn out.

It is this erratic and inconsistent approach to describing problems and solutions that generates mistrust among voters. 

In fact, this approach is why politics is a slippery slope; why Governments seem to mount up troubles the longer they go. In short; the inflated promises about solutions to inflated problems catch up with them.

For example, the National government raised expectations of its partial asset sale plan by saying it could earn $10 billion, reach 250,000 investors, and include “Mum and Dad” investors. When the first two sales unfolded flatly, the Government tried to deflate its previous claims, claiming instead that it was now expecting $5b.  The Meridian Energy shares attracted only 62,000, and the sale price was right at the bottom of the suggested range.

Politicians would do better to downplay problems, and underplay their responses. In fact, they’d do better not to own too many problems or solutions in the first place. But then we would all start asking about the point of politicians.

Filed under john key asset sales promises over-promising policies over-selling mixed ownership meridian mighty river power

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Kohanga Reo (cont)

My experience is that politicians really do believe that the role of media is to help publicise how good they are.

Politicians get frustrated and angry when their comments don’t make it into print, when policies don’t get enough coverage, or when attitudes and questions from media are skeptical.

It’s personal really: every one of these journalistic decisions is effectively a decision against the professionalism, relevance, capability, and honesty of the politicians.

It’s rare though that a politician speaks publically about this attitude.

But it came out in the comments of Maori Party leader Tariana Turia, when she criticised Maori Television for pursuing the Kohanga Reo Trust for misspending of public money. Instead, she said Maori TV was expressly set up to;

promote[d] mauriora, the things that were important for us as a people, to paint the side of a picture so you wouldn’t get the impression 90 percent of our people were mad, bad or sad,

You can understand her frustration. Even when politicians use public money to create a media outlet for the purpose of promotion, journalists won’t do what they’re told.

And that’s why politicians are not, and should not, be the judge of what makes good or bad journalism.

Filed under kohanga reo maori tv Tariana Turia

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Christopher Hitchens
“The only people truly bound by campaign promises are the voters who believe them.”
― Christopher Hitchens, The Quotable Hitchens from Alcohol to Zionism: The Very Best of Christopher Hitchens
There’s a trend for politicians to make a virtue of sticking to election promises; it has led to fewer, and duller, promises, and politicians feeling obliged to keep promises they’ve since discovered are dumb. Mark Blackham.

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“It is perhaps a sign of the strength of our republic that so few people feel the need to participate. That must be the reason.”
― Jon Stewart, America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction
It seems that every democracy, everywhere, has trouble getting people to vote. If people in New York won’t vote, then why should we expect people in New Lynn, Auckland, New Zealand. Mark Blackham

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Keeping family out of politics

If you keep your family out of politics, you must be consistent.

In a recent political ‘sex scandal’ Auckland Mayor Len Brown admitted an extra-marital affair early, and asked for the media to lay off his family as he, his wife, and children, worked through the personal side of the matter.

It’s a tactic that has worked for politicians before. Admitting early reduces the more severe fallout of a latter admission or revelation of undeniable evidence.

The request for ‘family time’ is also powerful. It reaches out to the public with the human side of what has happened. It infers that the politician has put his family first. It places the media into the position of getting on the bad side of the public by wronging the politician’s family if they delve deeper.

If the call is made, it must be stuck to. In Len Brown’s case his daughters issued a statement a few days later, defending their father’s political career and claiming the fidelity issue was a personal matter.

While the message was heart-felt, it dealt the kids and the personal life back into the public sphere. You cannot have privacy only when you want it, and publicity only when you want it.

A call for privacy in tough circumstances is hypocritical when the family has been part of the political campaigning in the past. It seems to me better to leave the family out of campaigning right from the start. Firstly, it reduces the potential for family issues to become a political issue. Secondly, being a politician is bad enough for the politician - it seems cruel to make your kids part of it as well. Less so the spouse, who can make a better judgement on it being part of their personal identity, or whether the political career is a shared enterprise (which it very often is).

The message from Brown’s daughter also introduced a little possibility that they, or their father, thought the statement would help the political situation. The idea that they were playing a role in his political salvation was unpleasant to contemplate.

They made their role a public and political one. They should have kept it private, as they and their father had asked of the public.

Filed under len brown political sex sex scandal family

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Power elite rally for Brown

A nervous ruling class is claiming the private lives of our great and good are not fair game.

But they are fair game. I’ve argued that what people do is evidence we use to judge their character. And character carries across all facets of a person’s life.

What the elite really mean is that their judgement is that people who cheat on their partners can still ‘do the job’.

What they really mean is that Len Brown CAN be judged, but the judgement is ‘meh’.

Either way, they ARE making a judgement on Brown.It’s not that his personal life doesn’t matter, but they don’t think that an affair matters enough.

I happen to agree, but some voters have different standards (even hypocritical ones) and will judge that it does matter.

To prove my point that personal lives are not on principle excluded from politics, let’s imagine that it wasn’t just one affair, but he had three on the go at the same time. Does his personal life matter to his political job? No?

Okay, then let’s imagine one of those women was the wife of his best friend? Does his personal life not matter to his political job? No?

I could keep going; somewhere along the line and still within the bounds of legality, most people are going to hit a point where they will think the personal life indicates a character that can’t do the job, and/or they won’t vote for. 

Keeping personal lives separate is vitally important to the power elite because they think they need to maintain their apparent superiority to run the lives of the public. If it is revealed that their lives are as messy, and probably messier, than the public, their moral right is undermined.

I’m not sure this is a good basis from which the power elite ought to lead, because it is so fragile. Maybe we ought to work on the premise that each of us is  flawed, especially the ruling class. The public won’t expect too much of them, and they won’t be given too much control over the public.

Appreciating that no one has moral authority is key to avoiding forms of authoritarianism, even in a democracy.

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Fighting politicians (cont)

An Australian politician, Victorian MP Geoff Shaw, got into a scuffle with taxi driver protestors on the steps of Parliament.

It sounds like a case of mutually willing participants after the MP was surrounded by the aggressive protestors.

Perhaps Shaw should not have got himself into the situation, especially since some allowance misspending controversy has probably frayed his demeanor. But I’m not sure why elected MPs should be any less able to to be involved in ‘street politics’ than anyone else.