What messages should parties adopt after Nicky Hager book?

Posted August 15, 2014

All political parties must think carefully how they respond to the Hager allegations over the next few weeks. They will have decided on their election campaign messages well before this issue was raised.

But now it is the focus of media attention, how should parties respond? Should they ignore it in favour of their carefully selected campaign messages, or should opposition parties jump in with both feet?

In my view, that depends. Clearly National should maintain its denial of any conspiracy. But it should take it as an opportunity to turn the focus onto its economic record. For example, when MPs are asked if there is any validity to the claims, they should say something like…”No, and I think New Zealanders are far more interested in talking about how we continue to grow the economy like we have over the last 5 years.”

By doing that, they would continue to push their message that National is the best option to manage the economy effectively and responsibly.

What about Labour? It could be more difficult for them to decide what to do. Just as we tell our media training clients, it’s important that a media interview, or extended campaign is limited to three key messages. Labour have decided these will be jobs, families and housing. That’s fair enough.

But with the Hager book, should they add another message? If they do, they run the risk of diluting the other three, meaning it will be harder to get them all through to swinging voters. They will need to research whether the issues covered in ‘Dirty Politics’ could turn people off National. Because if they don't and Labour focus on them, they may cause themselves more damage than National. They may find that people are far more likely to vote Labour by learning more about their jobs, families and housing messages. The other thing for them to consider is whether there are any skeletons in their closet that could be uncovered, particularly if this sort of thing is not uncommon in politics.

In my view, the biggest opportunity here is for the Conservatives. The one thing a lot of people respect about Colin Craig is his honesty. If his primary message for this Election is the need for open and honest Government, he could be killing two birds with one stone. He could be using this issue to highlight the need for honest and open Government. That way he could use the issue to get some good publicity while also focusing on a core campaign message. He is also undoubtedly squeaky clean, never having been in Parliament. But the Conservatives have been about the only party to keep quiet. While it could get them some good media attention, it has done them harm by keeping them out of the media spotlight and a time when they desperately need to be front and centre.

It will interesting to see how this pans out and who will end up the winners over this issue.

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