A sign o' the times

Has Labour managed to stuff up even a pretty good idea? [Turns out no - not as much as I prematurely thought.]

It's becoming so fashionable to knock the Labour Party's efforts to connect with a voting populace that just seems determined to ignore it that the contrarian in me feels like jumping the other way and hailing John Pagani as a genius.

But it seems like Labour just can't win, in that even when it comes up with what looks like a pretty good campaign idea it manages to find a way to stuff things up.

I'm referring to this campaign, designed to get grass-roots supporters to jump on board Labour's "stop asset sales" campaign and do a bit of fund raising at the same time. A nice idea. The idea of selling state owned assets (even if only partially) is one that still evokes a great deal of wariness in many New Zealand voters, given the hash we made of it last time around. And seeking to leverage the campaign to expand the party's donor base is no doubt necessary, given the likely fundraising gap between National and Labour leading into the 2011 campaign.

But there seem to be a few snags in the execution of the idea ... or, as TS Elliot might put it: Between the conception/ And the creation/ Between the emotion/ And the response/ Falls the Shadow.

First up, as DPF over at Kiwiblog has noted, the use of these "Stop Asset Sales" signs along the roadway looks to be in contravention of the Land Transport Rules. For some pretty obviously good reasons, you just aren't allowed to stick up signs - even ones containing political messages - that look like stop signs or the like beside a road.

Now, this isn't to say that Labour can't produce signs that look like stop signs, or stick these up in places that aren't visible from a roadway. It's just that those putting them up - most of whom I'm guessing are enthusiastic volunteers - shouldn't be putting them up alongside the roads. And Labour also probably shouldn't be saying "We're aiming to blanket the country with [the signs]", which could (at the least) be interpreted as encouragement to use them in ways that are prohibited.

Next potential problem is that I can't see where on these signs there is any "promoter's statement" - the name and address of the person responsible for the sign's publication - as required under the Electoral Act. I note that this requirement exists at all times, not just during the regulated period (i.e. 3 months before the election).

It is possible that such a statement is included on the back of the sign (as I haven't seen a "hard copy" of one, just photos). But I don't know that even this would satisfy the law, which states "If the election advertisement is published in a visual form, the promoter statement must be clearly displayed in the advertisement." Putting the promoter's name and address on the back of the sign is not "in the advertisement". For one thing, if the sign is nailed to a wall, then the name and address are not displayed at all!

So it looks to me, on an admittedly incomplete examination of the actual evidence [to wit - see update below], like Labour (actually, whomever permitted these signs to go out without a promoter's statement on them) may have committed an "illegal practice" under the Act. And in the case of a party secretary committing such an illegal practice, the potential punishment is a fine of up to $40,000.

Now, I could be justly accused of being overly concerned with legal niceties, and prone to failing to see the big forest because of a fixation with individual trees. It's been said before ... but I am a lawyer of sorts, so it's kind of a congenital defect.

But I do still wonder why these matters weren't sorted through before the campaign was launched. Because otherwise, the story is going to be less "Labour fights for the New Zealand public against National's rich mates" and more "Labour ignores the law when campaigning ... again". Cue recycled news stories about pledge cards and the like.

And that distraction from what we ought to be talking about is something that seems to be happening just too often.

[Update: I've had an email from a Labour source to tell me "there have been several print runs with different slight variations in the size of the promoter statement, but all authorised as far as i'm aware - the latest is attached." Mickey Savage makes a similar point in the comments below.

That being the case, then mea culpa and apologies for jumping the gun. I was mislead by this photo of the sign - the authorisation is so small it just didn't show up on the image.]