The New Zealand post-election books that are published by Victoria University of Wellington always contain chapters written by political party members – usually MPs – and are often a bit hit and miss. When they’re good, the writer will give invaluable insights into how their party ran their campaign, what they were trying to achieve, what went well and what didn’t, etc. Unfortunately, often the party participant isn’t really up to the challenge, and this is certainly the case with Catherine Delahunty’s chapter on the Greens’ campaign. It’s hard to get much out of her chapter in the new post-election book Key to Victory: The New Zealand General Election of 2008 edited by Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts. [Read more below]
Perhaps Delahunty was simply still in campaign mode when she wrote the chapter, because it’s full of slogans and platitudes, and it’s written with the aid of metaphors and simplicities. Mostly the chapter is a mixture of complaining about the difficulties the Greens were up against in the election, and boosting of how well the party did. As well as the usual complaints about the media, Delahunty bemoans the inability the party has in converting the ‘plethora of green talk and greenwash’ into a reliable constituency for the Greens (p.86). But she talks about the various breakthroughs the party made.
Delahunty concludes that the ‘2008 election helped the Greens break out of the single issue identity and be recognized as a party of broader relevance and lasting appeal’ (p.87). Quite what she means by this isn’t entirely clear. Perhaps she means that the party finally managed to shake off its image of being a loony-left, fuddy-duddy party? Certainly she often repeats the words ‘independence’ and ‘independent party’, making it vaguely clear that the party is obsessed with no longer being seen as a left appendage to Labour. She says that ‘In 2008 our challenge was to stand as an independent party. No longer the newest thing on offer and without a single overriding defining issue, we needed to campaign on our broad vision’ (p.84). Yet there was a clear concentration in 2008 on more narrow green environmental issues than wider issues of inequality, social change, or anything too associated with being leftwing. Delahunty reinforces this in saying that ‘We had identified the climate crisis, peak oil, and the safety of our food as key campaign themes’ (p.84).
The Greens’ shift to style over substance is also implicit in various statements in the chapter, with discussion about how the party delivered its message. She says that the slick and professionalized ad agency-driven campaign ‘was a call to vote from the heart, for children and the planet, and it worked because it was beautiful’ (p.84). What’s more, ‘this election has taught us that direct marketing of our core messages and creative digital communication offer us a huge opportunity to reach a wide audience when the mainstream media won’t let us out of the box’ (p.86). Other lightweight elements of the Greens campaign are also celebrated, such as the fact that ‘We also had some serious celebrity support in the form of Robyn Malcolm, Rob Hamill and Rawiri Paratene’ (p.86).
The low quality of Delahunty’s chapter is a shame, because the Greens had a very interesting campaign, and Delahunty is a veteran of the party’s electioneering – previously she’d been the campaign manager for the Auckland Green Party campaign (1999) and twice served on the campaign committee (2002 and 2005). In 2008 she again played these roles and also was elected to Parliament as a list MP. So you might have expected something interesting.
Further book details:
Preface - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
Overview of the Election
2008: Key to victory - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
2008: The last baby-boomer election - Colin James
2008: Leadership during transition - Jon Johansson
Political Party Perspectives
National - Steven Joyce
Labour - Grant Robertson
The Greens - Catherine Delahunty
ACT - John Boscawen
The Maori Party - Rahui Katene
The Progressives - John Pagani
United Future - Rob Eaddy
New Zealand First - Damian Edwards
New Zealand’s party system: a multi-party mirage? - Jennifer Curtin and Raymond Miller
2008: Images of political leadership in the campaign - Claire Robinson
2008: Media coverage of the election - Babak Bahador
2008: The international media and the election - Aljoscha Kertesz
2008: The campaign in cyberspace - Nicola Kean
2008: The YouTube campaign - Rob Salmond
2008: Voting behaviour and the keys to victory - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
2008: The impact of the Electoral Finance Act - Bryce Edwards
2008: Opinion polls and prediction markets in New Zealand - Shaun McGirr and Rob Salmond
2008: National’s winning strategy - Therese Arseneau
Key to Victory: The New Zealand General Election of 2008
Levine, Stephen (ed)
Roberts, Nigel (ed)
Key to Victory is the story of the New Zealand general
election of 2008, in which the experienced and long-serving prime minister,
Helen Clark, was ousted by a political newcomer – National’s John Key.
Veteran academic commentators Colin James, Jon Johansson, and Therese Arseneau offer perspectives on what New Zealanders were voting for when endorsing John Key and National, and what they were voting against. Several MPs elected for the first time in 2008 provide first-hand accounts of their parties’ campaigns, including Labour’s Grant Robertson; the Greens’ Catherine Delahunty; the Maori Party’s Rahui Katene; ACT’s John Boscawen; and the director of National’s winning campaign, Steven Joyce, appointed to Cabinet following National’s victory. New Zealand First’s doomed campaign is described by its campaign director, Damian Edwards, while party strategists John Pagani and Rob Eaddy provide accounts of the Progressive and United Future campaigns.
Key to Victory also investigates the important issues of the 2008 election, such as the impact of the Electoral Finance Act, and the likely future of New Zealand’s remaining small parties.
During the 2008 campaign political parties started getting to grips with websites, blogs, Facebook and YouTube, and ‘prediction markets’ competed with traditional polls in forecasting the election results. The book describes these developments and provides insights into the use of the media by John Key and Helen Clark in their rival campaigns for leadership. International reaction to the New Zealand campaign and the country’s vote for change is also highlighted.
Key to Victory includes a special DVD with excerpts from key campaign events including the televised leaders’ debates, the leaders’ opening night campaign addresses, parties’ TV ads and campaign billboards.