Political Business

Lessons on political strategy

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The word of the week is: determined

National’s spin phrase from the conference is: ‘determined’.

The word is out, National will no longer be a shrinking violet. National ‘knows’ its plan for the economy is good, so it will now be more determined to carry it out.

Over the past four years, National’s annual conference has tended to reinforce the theme of the year. These have varied from driving public service to hit targets and public private partnerships (PPPs), to the mixed ownership model for state assets.

This year there is no new economic theme or plan. This year National has decided to say that it really, really means all the stuff it’s previously announced.

It especially means it with asset sales, so will incentivise share purchases, and is especially keen on oil and gas exploration.

So the word ‘determined’ was spun between Ministers, MPs, delegates and media.

This is revealing in a number of ways:

1) National is trying to talk itself into a determined mindset. Which means it isn’t quite sure, or at least that it needs to jump start itself into this mindset.

2) National is acknowledging that it’s been too careful in the past about following through with plans. What the heck ever happened to PPPs?

3) After four years of strong polling, National is finally confident that it has public support, so is less bothered about upsetting its usual opponents.

Strategically, this is the best route. You either cringe your way to the next election, or do the things you think are right, and/or popular.

Two words of warning though;

  1. the “determined” talk is simply a feedback loop within the political class. Just saying it doesn’t make it so, and it is unlikely to be communicated across to the voting public. It’s especially hard to carry on with your determination when your Government has now slipped into the frame whereby almost any action is an invitation for controversy.
  2. public support doesn’t tend to wax and wane accurately. Sentiment tends to reach tipping points then change dramatically. That’s why Key’s wariness served National well in the first term.

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