Little's media skills will still make the difference

8 March 2017

Many commentators have suggested that Jacinda Adern’s rise to the deputy leadership could help the Labour Party by taking some of the spotlight off Andrew Little’s perceived dryness in the lead-up to the Election and help the Labour/Green block get over the line in September. I disagree.


Voters are always focused on two things when they cast their ballot. They are the party leader and the policy. There is some debate as to what ratio is accurate. This also depends on the party. It would be a fair bet that most NZ First voters are voting for Winston rather than the party policy, while Green voters may be more focused on the policy.

However, the leader is still huge with the major parties. Take the leader debates on TV for example. They are important and Jacinda, or Paula Bennett for that matter, will have no influence on those.

During the campaign, the media focus almost entirely on party leaders. Everyone else usually takes a back seat, apart from ministers who are announcing policies from their respective portfolios. Even then, the leader takes an active part.

What’s the risk for Labour?

There has been talk that Little and Jacinda will campaign together. I’ve also heard that Labour Party billboards will be graced with pictures of both leader and deputy. This could backfire for two reasons.

Firstly, because the leader has such an impact on how many people vote, sharing the limelight with Jacinda could dilute Little’s ability to woo voters. As the election approaches, he will have many more opportunities to show New Zealanders his lighter side and ability to lead. This opportunity will be limited if he works in tandem with his deputy.

Secondly, it will clearly imply that he’s not up to it and that will be on the minds of anyone considering voting Labour. John Key or Helen Clark didn’t need a deputy to hold their hand.  And because Jacinda is far better with the media than Little, she will often appear more like the leader than Little himself. That will again weaken his ability to demonstrate that he’s a competent Prime Minister in waiting.

Time will tell how much of the spotlight Jacinda gets. My recommendation would be to keep it limited and put the resources into good media training for Andrew Little. He needs to come out of his shell and limit the angry spells.

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Written by

Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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