Labour's costly campaign message mistake

Posted December 4, 2023

There may have been multiple reasons why Labour did so badly at the recent General Election, but one was the absence of a clear campaign message.

Any campaign, just like any media interview, needs a 3-point message that becomes the focus of all communication. It doesn’t mean that candidates don’t answer questions related to other issues, but it is the focus wherever possible.

National had a very clear message. It was evident on the party website, most written communication as well as coming out of Christopher Luxon’s mouth throughout the campaign. The overarching point was “Let’s get New Zealand back on track,” while the 3 key points focused on fixing the cost of living crisis, getting tougher on law and order and improving health and education services. That couldn’t be clearer.

But Labour was another story. It’s hard to know what the message was, if there was one at all. It was unclear on the party website and unclear when Chris Hipkins was out on the campaign trail. Obviously “In it for you,” was the overarching point which I’d say is far too abstract. But the 3 points are hard to uncover. One may have been that National can’t be trusted, but there appeared to be little else. Hipkins did often say that New Zealanders had nothing to fear from Co-Governance, but I can’t imagine that would have been part of the campaign message because of its unpopularity. He even spoke in major detail about this during the debates and that was a mistake if it wasn’t part of the message.

There didn’t seem to be any other focus, such as what Labour would do to grow the economy, or protect workers. The major focus appeared to be to attack National, and Christopher Luxon in particular. Any campaign message needs more than that to attract voters. 

Some will say Labour didn’t have a broader message because they didn’t have a record to run on. Others will say that their rejection of a wealth tax meant they couldn’t focus on sticking up for the less well off. That may be true, but they still could have come up with a far more effective message that appeared to be the case.

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