Nats are losing control of their narrative

It’s my belief that commentary on recent political events in NZ would be improved were it framed in terms of political narratives. Everybody seems to be missing this point.

Reviewing recent polls I commented that:

“Still, even if there is no immediate pay-off for Labour from the loose lips debacle, the episode may prove valuable in the long-run. Gardner imagines Labour putting together advertisements that feature English and his comments as part of a campaign based on trust, leadership and privatisation. I’d say that last week’s events might prove very useful to Labour as it seeks to build a narrative around “hidden agendas”. (emphasis added)

That’s the point. The loose lips debacle gave credibility to the “slippery John/secret agenda” narrative that Labour has been running all year. The strengthening of Labour’s alternative narrative didn’t show up in the first opinion poll results, but at a deeper level something important happened.

Why did the media jump on the story when hapless Maurice Williamson let slip that motorists might be paying $50 a week in toll charges under National? Because they were sensitised to the alternative narrative.

Williamson’s over-enthusiastic but revealing gaffe fits the counter story. Its significance doesn’t need explaining to the viewers/readers.

The counter story is also much more intriguing than the uncritical hagiographies about the boy from the state home that the Herald has been dishing out of late.

As political consultant (and occasional guest poster here) Neil Stockley pointed out in June, “you can have a politcal narrative, but you can’t own it.“:

“Most of the debate around “what is our narrative?” still tends to gloss over one brutal truth: we don’t control our story. Nobody controls their story. One story can be drowned out by counter-stories, especially if the latter are simpler and more deeply rooted in the audiences values or prejudices. Most importantly, it is the political audiences who decide their brand perception of any politician or party.”

I would venture that the Nat’s own carefully honed narratives are quickly being drowned out by the counter-story about their neo-liberal agendas, and that this is a real danger to their chances of forming a government after the election. Ironically, should the non-right parties be able to form a government in a few months time, they’ll have some of National’s neo-liberal die-hards to thank.

A new chapter in National’s counter story

[Update: With nearly half the population hooked into the counter story, it’s not something that the old media are able to ignore, even if they wanted to.]

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6 Responses to “Nats are losing control of their narrative”

  1. macdoctor01 Says:

    I think the media jumped on the $50 dollar story because it was outrageous, rather than “Because they were sensitised to the alternative narrative.” Williamson was clearly talking off the top of him head and named a figure of $5 at trip – it was the journalist who quickly totted it up – not because he was looking for an alternative narrative, but because that’s what a journalist does – exaggerates to make a story.

    All this story exposes is Williamson’s lack of experience with toll roads and how much they cost. There is no way on God’s good earth a bridge toll would be more than $2.00 maximum (Check the Sydney and Melbourne bridge tolls for comparison).

    Toll roads defray some of the cost of roading, moving some of the tax burden onto the user (like the proposed Auckland petrol tax, only much fairer). I suspect the tolling will be handled by a private company paying some form of rental, as in other countries using tolls.

    And I put very little store in half the country saying they don’t trust National. If you ran the same question for Labour, I suspect the answer would be similar. Politicians, after all, are the least trusted group of people in the country.

    Nice picture, BTW. Wasn’t you was it, JP? 🙂

  2. AndrewE Says:

    I’d agree that it would be very interesting to see a similar poll asking how many folks trust Labour. One would have thought that in the interests of balance they should have asked? Maybe they did?

    And one wonders where the authorisation statement was on that toll booth?

  3. MikeG Says:

    macdoc – but the journalist didn’t exaggerate, he simply did the sums: $5 a trip x 2 trips per day x 5 weekdays = $50! They then discussed the $50 amount and Williamson didn’t back down.

    If Williamson has a lack of experience with toll roads then what has he been doing for the last 9 years? The election is not far away, and I don’t think that it is unreasonable for the public to expect a former Minister of Transport to have a decent grasp of transport issues. He only has to look as close as Tauranga to see what a failure toll roads can be.

  4. Dan Says:

    What narrative? There is none. The only reason people are looking to Key is that”It is time for a change!” But the narrative as to what has never surfaced.
    And there is a reason for that in that there is still a division within the Nats as to what cards to play. Key is the front man with the appealing blokesy persona, poor boy made good from a state house line who has been encouraged by the Act elements in the National party; the drys, led by English, hold to the more traditional National view. Their differencesshould have been resolved by now, but so great has been their confidence that they were going to delay the obvious until after the election.
    As a result we have bullet point nonsense as policy. Key won’t front up to hard questioning. Their only hope is to get Winston snookered so that election comes forward, and their lack of policy is not subject to perusal over three months.

  5. ak Says:

    Their only hope is to get Winston snookered…

    Yeah and you don’t need to be Joe Davis’ ghost to know that the chances of laying a snooker are pretty slim for a player who can’t even play safety without leaving a “set up” after nearly every shot.

    As Cullen notes; it’s hard to convince voters that you could run a successful government when you can’t even run an opposition….

  6. Peters time running short « Jafapete’s Weblog Says:

    […] this week’s events couldn’t have come at a better time for the Nats.They were fast losing control of their narrative, and the gap was […]

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