Political blogs, like other party comms, require oversight

A guest post from Jacob Quinn, first posted on his blog, Life and Politics.

What is the point of having a media unit if they cannot filter and influence what messaging makes its way into the public from your organisation? This is a question that political parties need to ask themselves when deciding on how to manage their MP’s media releases, blog posts and media interviews.

It is common practice for media staff, most of whom are ex-journalists or at least have developed understandings of how media works and how issues will likely play out, to coordinate interviews and press releases.  So why would you leave them out of having input to (and more importantly, oversight of) a party political blog, that you’ve set up to communicate political messages and to engage with interested voters and journalists.

Today’s blog post by Labour MP Raymond Huo, and a couple of other noteworthy examples from 2011, are examples of well-meaning but ultimately counterproductive pieces of political communication, that, had they been put under the nose of a press secretary, would have stayed in the drafts column, never to see the light of day.

This is why you pay press secretaries. Even if you are an award-winning writer or a former journalist yourself, you cannot keep your political antennae on 24/7 – especially in the wake of a personal attack or when reacting to something that you feel particularly emotionally charged about.

In the heat of the moment you lose your cool and write something that turns out sounding silly. It hits the press, you are embarrassed, your colleagues are embarrassed, and then your leader has to have a quite stern word with you. Now you wish you’d run it past someone in the media unit.

I am of the view that to minimize the risk of embarrassing or counter-productive communications working their way into the public domain political parties must include their communications staffers in all external political communications, including blog posts. Press officers tend to be available (almost) 24 hours a day, they have smart phones, and the sign-off processes needn’t be overly cumbersome or bureaucratic.

Political party blogs like what Labour and the Greens have are incredible useful communications tools. Conversely, blogs which consists of newsletter links and rehashed press releases are not worth the $25 a year it costs to register the domain name.  Labour and the Greens should be commended for running real blogs, with real opinions on current issues, but they are foolish if they don’t bring these tools within their broader communications strategies and oversight mechanisms.

Morning reading

10 things you need to know about Newt (Medhi Hasan, The New Stateman)

With the Florida primary almost upon us, lets take a look at Newt Gingrich’s background…

He’s been married three times and his middle name is Leroy. But that’s not the half of the things you might not know about the latest big hope of the Republican right . . .

The Third Wave Of Globalisation (Will Straw, Progress Online)

Given the recent talk surrounding the Crafar farm sales, and the accusations of economic protectionism, nationalism, patriotism and even xenophobia and racism, this piece is particularly relevent…

The ongoing elections in the US and France have exposed an electorally popular strand of protectionism in both countries. In the US, the Republican hopeful Mitt Romney has made hawkish noises about China’s currency while Arnaud Montebourg came an unexpected third in the Socialist primary election running on a ‘deglobalisation’ ticket. Britain has always been more open to trade but the negative effects of competition from Asia and elsewhere has begun to erode that old consensus.

For the last year, IPPR has undertaken a research programme, led by Lord Mandelson, to look at how the global economy is changing, digest the latest economic evidence of the positive and negative impacts of globalisation, investigate how Britain can earn a living in this new context, and set out a series of policy recommendations at the international and domestic level to ensure that globalisation contributes to a more equitable and sustainable form of economic growth rather than detracting from it. After meeting hundreds of people in cities across five continents, IPPR today publishes our conclusions in The Third Wave of Globalisation.

DAVOS 2012: IMF issues austerity warning (BBC World)

Via Helen Clark on Twitter

Crisis-hit countries such as Greece and Spain are implementing deep government spending cuts and raising taxes in order to try to bring down their deficits.

“For parts of Europe for a long time, there will be no alternative to very substantial adjustment in budget deficits,” Mr Geithner said.

He is one of a number of leaders who have said this week that the deficit-cutting measures have been an important step in addressing the eurozone debt crisis.


Shape the Future – Pro-amalgamation lobby launches

A lobby group who are pursuing the idea of local government amalgamation, Shape Our Future, have just launched their website.

It’s a pretty open and honest account, with links to tons of information. They even have a list of people who are supporting the cause, and you’re able to add your name.

It’s going to be interesting to see where this goes, I imagine it is going to be an issue that gets plenty of coverage in the next few years.

For the record: I’m currently undecided on the issue. I can certainly see some benefits, but I do have concerns about representation.

The Crafar farms situation

I’ve so far managed to avoid posting about the Crafar farms buy-out. It’s a messy situation for sure. I’m still trying to string my thoughts on it together, but a few things stand out.

  • The Chinese firm that has bought the farms, Oravida NZ, donated $55,000 to the National Party.
  • David Farrar has fudged the numbers to make it look like Labour sold lots of productive land, and the poor innocent National Party have done no such thing. It’s a very liberal use of statistics, and I’ll be going into it further.
  • We need to strike a balance between overseas investment, which we need given our feeble domestic capital market, and the ability to keep strategic assets in New Zealand hands. Then of course you would have to build a case for dairy farms being a strategic asset.
  • As far as I can tell, the calls of xenophobia on the issue (“the opposition is only because they’re Chinese”) are non-existent. As we’ve seen in recent years, there is a strong opposition to the sale of New Zealand assets to international buyers, regardless of their nationality (remember the objections to the Canadian Pension scheme buying Auckland Airport?)

There are rumours floating around there have been all sorts of dodgy deals going on. I guess we’ll soon find out what’s been happening…

And this is what they think of us overseas…

BoingBoing, one of the largest blogs on the internet, have posted about the leak of the teapot tapes

Here’s the utterly inconsequential recording that resulted in NZ PM John Key ordering raids on the free press

New Zealand media were raided by police last November just before the general election, after the incumbent centre-right Prime Minister John Key made a criminal complaint over a recording of a conversation in a cafe between him and far right-wing politician John Banks during a staged media event. The country’s biggest broadcasters and newspaper were raided by police, who requested unpublished material and sources for interviews as well as the recording itself. Radio New Zealand covered the “Teapot Tapes” scandal and was raided too even though it didn’t have a copy of the recording.

The comments are also well worth a read.

Key on the defensive…

From Audrey Young in the Herald

This was the week John Key was to have set the political agenda.

It was the Prime Minister’s first full week back after the summer break, the first Cabinet meeting, the week of the state-of-the-nation speech, the first overseas visit – to Australia.

Instead of projecting strong leadership, Key has been on the defensive.

He began by defending the minister who was consulted over Kim Dotcom’s residency application.

The internet posting of the private taped conversation between Key and Act candidate (now MP) John Banks at the height of the election campaign again forced him on to the back foot.

And he has been defending the sale of Crafar farms to the Chinese company Shanghai Pengxin all week, as well as yesterday after the approval was given.

Every party seeks to set the agenda but the past week has made it easy for new Opposition leader David Shearer and that old expert on opposition, Winston Peters.


An idea from the UK…

The governing body of the British Labour Party, outside of conference, is it’s National Executive Committee (NEC). It meets roughly monthly and directs the governance of the party. Here in New Zealand, the Labour Party has a New Zealand Council (NZC) which is similar in composition and purpose.

One of the constituency Labour Party representatives, Luke Akehurst, regularly blogs for the think tank Progress.  Once a month or so he will post his report from the NEC meeting. The most recent one is here.

This is streets ahead of where we are in New Zealand. While our NZC meetings are not a totally closed shop (though I have joked to one or two of the members that they should have robes and a secret handshake), there really seems to be a lack of two-way communication between many of the NZC members and the party members they are there to represent. Perhaps it’s because their reports back are only given verbally at certain party meetings – and no doubt many will feel that is adequate. But I really feel that our hierarchical party structure will only ever work if we improve our communication and operate much more openly and transparently.

Ultimately it’s things like this that require a cultural change within the party. We can have all the party reform consultations we want, and amend the constitution until the cows come home, but we’re not going to see real change unless we alter the way we operate.

USC, Article II, Section 3 – 2012 update

In case you missed it, President Obama delivered his third SOTU address yesterday afternoon (NZDST).

As the US Constitution requires:

[The President] shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

and as political theatre goes, the nearly hundred year old tradition of addressing a joint session of the US Congress in January to deliver the State of the Union (SOTU) address is a pretty good one – well at least for junkies like me.

I enjoy them greatly – even the really bad ones – though they are not often inspiring speeches.

The SOTU is an opportunity for the President to use his position to set out the case for his legislative programme, and then over the next year try to get it passed. Something this Congress will make very difficult. It’s not the same as our Speech from the Throne, which much more clearly states what the government will do.

So why all the attention and bother if nothing much is going to come from it? Politics of course.

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