Hard News by Russell Brown


We interrupt this broadcast ...

The televised opening addresses for the 2011 election, from the National, Labour and Green parties respectively, have gone to air. And they've certainly provided plenty to talk about.

In National's effort, John Key, who has generally been wary of submitting himself for interview, answers questions from an audience. But they're fake questions from a fake audience at a fake public meeting. This could have worked had it been compellingly produced, but it's bleakly lit, horribly edited and, frankly, weird.

I genuinely can't tell whether this is someone's mate doing it on the cheap, or whether it's an overthought attempt to appear un-slick -- unslickness being a quality the public seems to perceive and value in Key himself:

Labour followed National's fake discussion show with a fake documentary -- and it was actually pretty good. There is no prospectof Phil Goff being competitive with Key in a presidential-style campaign, so Labour had to emphasise its team, its core values and its history. It's not surprising that the party wants to feature telegenic MPs like Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern, but Damien O'Connor's heartland pitch is actually convincing too. Things still flag every time Goff is on screen.

The obvious criticism is that Labour is wallowing in the past, rather than pointing the way to a brighter future, but I can see the thinking in this. National has literally claimed the "brighter future" slogan -- and perhaps there are quite a few voters thinking more about the hole they're in than the mountain they're supposed to climb. Also: we've just spent two months valuing heritage and authenticity in the form of the All Blacks.

The Greens' opening broadcast was nowhere near as risky as Labour's, but seemed to serve their strategy well. This isn't the red Greens; the language is Obama-esuqe ("Fair irrgation charges" lead to "green jobs") and the bad guys go unnamed. It feels a little awkward that they hang so much on the "For a richer New Zealand" campaign slogan -- perhaps because that slogan doesn't yet have cut-through. My guess is that they genuinely wanted the "richer" theme to be more controversial -- they wanted it to be the spark for a conversation that hasn't quite happened yet.

So: a weird and defective effort from National, focused entirely on Key, which makes you wonder quite how much weight his personal popularity can really sustain.

A surprising, risky but quite successful presentation from Labour, one they wouldn't have attempted if they had more to lose.

And a fairly safe but admirably on-message broadcast from the Greens.

If nothing else, these broadcasts, like the respective party hoardings, suggest that Labour's campaign creative is a cut above its rivals'. That is not the same thing as actually winning hearts and minds -- let alone elections -- but after three years featuring a lot of strategic bumbling, it's something. As someone put it on Twitter last night: Labour won the haka.

I confess, now, I can't wait to see how crazy Act's campaign address is. I shall be rather put out if it isn't.

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