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Lessons on political strategy

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The value of campaign perspective

Many tactics employed in an election campaign fail because they are driven by emotions of the campaign team, rather than being about emotions of the voters.

A case in point are the tactics employed by the National Leader John Key to counter the CuppaGate saga two weeks out from a General Election.

There have been criticism and plaudits for his decision to lay a complaint with the police, and his claim that it was akin to a News of the World phone hacking.

I’m betting that the police complaint tactic was not a designed and considered response at all. I’m betting that it was a response driven by embarrassment.

I can imagine how it would have played out.

John Key would be fuming at the Herald on Sunday revelation that there was a tape of the conversation, and that the content was embarrassing. He would know the content was likely to be be at the least unflattering. There he was holding a huge media stunt he might have been talked into. And there, on the cafe table for all to see, was a recording device picking up all the random things he said in the discomfort of that moment.

He would be fuming at the cameraman. He would be fuming at media. He would be fuming at his own people for allowing the recording device to have been left there.

What would you say if you were one of the advisers responsible for that blunder? You’d divert blame. You’d blame the media. You’d join your boss in ranting against the unethical behaviour of the journalist. You’d infer all sorts of things about how that device had been left there.

In that situation no one in the advisory team would have been thinking calmly. The natural tendency is for the individuals to protect themselves, and for the group to turn together to find and face the enemy.

Thus, the campaign team may have decided to attack the enemy by complaining to the police. In their own minds it got each of them, and their group, off the hook.

It was possibly argued that the move would isolate the journalist, change the subject, warn off other journalists from using the content, and maybe even allow a claim that a police investigation prevented discussion of the matter.

We have seen that the tactic did not work. The media got fired up. They  continued to ask questions. Pundits speculated about the content. The issue obliterated all other election matters for at least four complete days.

The tactic, and its possible motivations, demonstrates the value of;

  1. Independent political counsel: it is essential to have a strong willed advisor who assesses and responds to situations without the blindness engendered by group  thinking and desperation borne from loyal ‘beleivers’.
  2. Self-awareness: being a political professional means being aware of your own emotional weak spots, so you know when to allow others to make a strategic or tactical decision.

Filed under political strategy john key cuppagate cup of tea john banks election election 2011 political tactics