Poll Dancer by Keith Ng

Up the Worm Without a Paddle

Leleleleleleead, lilililiisten, lilililisten to lead by lililiistening. And leading. By listening.

Ladies and gentlemen - these are the leleleleaders of our country.

I like suspense, but I'm just going to say it - I think Labour's going to win this election. No, not just because Don Brash started his speech by blurting out the buzzwords that his people told him to blurt out, and no, not because it got worse after that. No, the most striking aspect of the debate was the failure of Peters and Hide to get any traction with their respective messages of "country going down the drain" and "country wants change", and that Anderton had his biggest spike when he delivered the feel-good message of New Zealand being a successful country - and doing better than Australia.

The overwhelming mood of the crowd was positive, and this does not bode well for the opposition. It's that simple.

I had a great time at the debate, which I got to through a series of coincidences. TV1's Agenda flew me up today for an interview for their show on Saturday (it's for the media segment, on the successes of student media, on this Saturday at 8:30am and 11:55pm. And it has me in it.), and on the way up, I was on the same plane as Fran from the Greens, who got me in touch with Roger from TV3, who got me into the debate.

I ended up in the green room, where all the TV3 bigshots and the media minders were, just watching the same TV as everyone else - but it was worth it, just to see the look of G-rated ecstasy on Dunne's minders' faces when that worm kept rising, its veins swelling with the middleness of middle New Zealand.

Good thing that they were all there, then - it just wouldn't have been the same without Peter Dunne to fluff the worm.

Observation and thoughts (most of which are mine):

* ACT: Namechecking Michael Campbell didn't do Hide any favours; undecided voters, it seems, don't agree that change is needed; tax cuts provided an instant response, though interestingly, the numbers didn't make a difference (perhaps it's too difficult to quickly digest?); Hide looked like had a bit too much P going into the debate, but chilled out later on.

* Greens: Did not mention GE; nobody cared about the rivers; albatross-saving is not a vote winner; pollution tax (as a gradual replacement for income tax) was surprisingly well received - I suspect that people thought it sounded like a tax cut, but didn't realise that it, well, wasn't.

* Labour: Consistently talking about consistency. Well, at least that makes her consistent, and her worm rating showed it - it was consistent, too. Tze Ming says that this is meta-mimetic, which is all the analysis we have between the two of us. Tze Ming also notes that she had good hair.

* Maori: It was painful to watch - all the right buzzwords (families, children, etc., and in English, too!) were used, but flopped dismally, even when the exact same lines worked magic for Dunne - Dunne's people say it's about the credibility that Dunne has; seemed scared of the crowd, and, I suppose, that was justified by its hostility; maybe *she* should have mentioned Michael Campbell.

* National: "Oh my god - twilight golf and pet homeopathy" has been flogged to a pulp - it's time to let it go; people liked funny Brash, for a moment; then people laughed *at* him for his "just a few farms comment"; closing speech, the worm made upward progress, but dipped the second he said "vote National Party". Oh dear.

* NZ First: Lacklustre performance by Peters, who uncharacteristically let himself be bitchslapped around by Campbell; his negative message of New Zealand being overrun (by who? Oh, you know, *people*.) didn't work; it was interesting that neither covert or overt racism did much for the worm, and even "gender-bending" didn't provoke a response - whatever happened to Winston "Love-Him-or-Hate-Him" Peters?; and boy, did it all go downhill after "paddling". "Paddling" is not a buzzword. Which focus group did you get that one from, Winston? NAMBLA?

* Progressives: Positive messages of growth, success and stuff-Australia worked well, and saved Anderton's ass after a dull opener of "pragmatic", "incremental gains", and basically 'we're better than nothing'; amazed, however, at how effective his bullet-point closing "speech" actually was, perhaps nobody expects a vision out of this man anymore - but they do see him as someone who gets things done.

* United Future: Undecided voters trust an undecided politician - hell, undecided voters *are* his constituency. I finally understand the utter bewilderment of pundits in 2002. I don't know what he's doing, but he sounds good doing it. Actually, no he doesn't. Fuck, I don't get it.


The whole exercise was an incredibily rich and valuable resource for the pundits and spin-doctors. And it was great fun, even after Tze Ming, in the absence of a worm controller, punched me to express her disapproval during Peters' speech.

Still - a bit of context: These are all undecided voters, and as numerous as they are, they are equally volatile, so let's not take this too seriously. The key thing to watch is voter contentment - if people think that the country is heading in the right direction, if people are happy with their lives, Brash and co. will have an uphill battle to convince us that New Zealand is worse than Australia, and that our lives, in fact, suck.