How to lose voters and alienate people

John Banks' campaign has him peering over motorways and turning up on television at the eleventh hour. Len Brown, meanwhile, is everywhere

For political aficionados, the tussle for the super city mayoralty is the most interesting local election in years and, whatever the result, it is already surprising in many ways.

For a start, the right has been clearly out-organised and out-campaigned by the left.

As one who has been watching or actively involved in Auckland mayoral elections since Jim Anderton had a tilt at Robbie a hundred years ago, I haven’t seen the conservative side of Auckland local politics so heavily outgunned.

John Banks’ campaign seems nothing short of a shambles in almost every respect.

While many predicted division on the left side of the race, the reverse had happened with Banks bleeding a possibly crucial ten per cent of the conservative vote to Colin Craig, a nonentity whose only claim to fame is organising a fizzer demonstration in favour of smacking kids, but who is clearly well heeled.

Len Brown’s early declaration had the intended effect of burning off competition on his side of the ledger.

Banks' team at first eschewed television advertising and only when more than half of the probable total of postal ballots had been cast suddenly launched commercials which can only have been devised and produced by the media studies class from Remuera Primary School.

In contrast Len Brown’s team has somehow afforded a long and regular flight of engaging and positive messages with a repeated theme.

Turnout, as I write this, is upside down with unprecedented high participation in the left’s Otara, Mangere and Manurewa heartlands, well ahead of slow polling in the posh, leafy Epsom, East Coast Bays and Orakei.

Clearly Brown has troops on the ground and Banks hasn’t. This is reflected by the two contenders’ billboard presence.

Brown has accessed private sites previously only available to the Labour Party in general election campaigns, while Banks seems to have focused on a few large commercial sites.

The effect of this is Brown everywhere and Banks smiling over a few motorways and arterials.

In cyberspace, there’s equally no contest.

I turned my cell phone off last Wednesday evening to give my methamphetamine talk to a Rotary gathering in Mission Bay (you get fined if your phone rings at Rotary meetings). When I turned it back on at 10.30 pm the phone’s mailbox was full (that’s twenty-plus messages) with reminders to text my support for Brown following a TV debate. 

Predictably, Brown won that particular contest, and that’s just old-fashioned good organisation coming through.

John Banks has seemingly compounded a weak and disorganised campaign by ignoring what must have been revealed in his pre-campaign polling.

His problem has always been that he polarises opinion.

An unpublished survey has positive attitudes to him at 35%, but dislike at 47%. The same survey clocks Len Brown at 57% positive and 38% negative.

Banks’ handlers are no amateurs and include Michelle Boag and Bill Ralston.

They must have been apoplectic when their candidate dissed all of South Auckland – more than a quarter of the electorate he is supposed to be wooing – this introducing the radical new campaign strategy of insulting your potential supporters without attracting any other votes.

I’ve only seen such a tactic used once before.

This was when an obscure candidate running for a seat in the Northern Territory Assembly was asked why he was scoring so poorly in the polls.

He replied, “Because they’re all bloody idiots”.

Needless to say, this gentleman didn’t win.

What John Banks had to do was to sell the new softer candidate and depress that sky high negative perception. This doesn’t seem to be part of his thinking and he compounded the error by what seemed to be a petulant and nasty attack on his opponent during a debate.

It may be that the Tories look at the “exit polls” which are currently showing Len Brown comfortably ahead and post their ballots in the dying days of the campaign, but the truth of the matter is that John Banks doesn’t deserve to win.

Whatever the result a new and rare organisational talent has been launched.

Conor Roberts as Len Brown’s campaign manager has done a superb job, and can look back with pride whatever the result.

Sure, he has a saleable product, but Brown’s campaign has run like clockwork and I’ll be surprised if Roberts doesn’t join the pantheon of great political organisers with the likes of Sir George Chapman and Matt McCarten.

A friendly warning though, Conor.

I did this off and on for thirty years on both sides of the Tasman.

Its great fun.

But there’s no money in it.