Brian Edwards Media

A Beginner’s Guide to Getting to and Staying at the Top of the Political Polls

People prefer winners. So, if possible, start at the top. But if that isn’t possible,  follow these 15 simple guidelines:

  •  There is very little point in being seen with people less famous, less popular, less successful or less beautiful than yourself. Remember the Second Law of Thermodynamics: ‘Heat won’t pass from the cooler to the hotter.’
  • There is very little point in being with people more famous, more popular, more successful or more beautiful than yourself and not being seen with them. Reflected glory still shines.
  • A photo-opportunity is worth a thousand words.
  • A thousand words is probably 900 too many.
  • But a thousand photo-ops is a bloody good start.
  • Travel broadens the opportunity for photo-ops.
  • You can’t fool all of the people all of the time. But you can fool a majority for just long enough.
  • To paraphrase Mencken, no-one ever lost an election underestimating the intelligence of the voters.
  • Even if they shouldn’t, most people judge a book by its cover. Work on your cover.
  • When your opponents are wrong, crow; when they are right, sneer.
  • If you must have a socially responsible policy, keep it to yourself.
  • Perception is everything.
  • Seeming nice beats being nice.
  • Always give people what they want, never what’s good for them.
  • Every night, before you go to sleep, read a few chapters of  Niccolo Machiavelli. Here’s a sample: ‘And if, to be sure, sometimes you need to conceal a fact with words, do it in such a way that it does not become known, or, if it does become known, that you have a ready and quick defence.’
  • Alternatively, put a call through to Crosby/Textor in Sydney.

Simple, isn’t it?  Why, just by reading these few basic instructions you can feel your poll ratings rising through the roof. And you thought you needed responsible, well-thought-out policies and principles. Silly you!

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35 Comments:

  1. I’m guessing the mobile smile has read the book.

  2. Remember the Second Law of Thermodynamics: ‘Heat won’t pass from the cooler to the hotter.’

    Whoever postulated that law had not encountered my wife’s feet in contact with my back.

  3. The sad thing about modern politics is that it is all about getting elected. After that … hmm … come to think about it, there is no after that, is there. Well, not until the next election anyway.

  4. Just who is this referring to?

  5. Is that what your advice was to Helen Brian.

    BE: No. It’s a mix of Machiavelli and what I suspect is the advice being taken by a more recent Kiwi PM.

  6. A 20th century German philosopher predicted the biggest human issue of the postmodern age will be despair.
    Brian you are of course right but I worry more about our response to this, despair and cynicism leading to WTF, why bother, etc etc.
    The thing I like about Nicky Hager’s doco – The Hollow men – was his passionate attempt to lay it all out there in all it’s horrible, morally corrupt glory.
    Where are our main stream media in this? Is it the journalists, the news editors or the owners who decline to comment on the Machiavellian underpinnings of our politicians? We can laugh about how easily ordinary people (the majority) can be fooled but hell isn’t that a role of the media to raise the alarm – to yell out – the king has no clothes. Even worst when the cynicism spreads like a foggy cloud then all we are left with is – politicians are liars.
    I’d like to know who can we trust, as authentic. I’d like to be able to advise the many young people I work with who they can trust and why it may be worth their while to vote. What is the antidote to political cynicism? Hope, where is it?

    BE: Increasingly I’m coming to the view that you really can fool most of the people most of the time, that, not to put too fine a point on it, people are stupid. What we have seen in politics over the last three years is the triumph of style over substance. It began with the prime reason for changing the government being ‘that it was time to change the government’. I remember some young up-and-comings being interviewed by Paul Holmes on the roof of the Network Centre. When asked who they’d be voting for, the vast majority said National. When asked why that was, they all looked blank before saying, ‘Well, um, er, I dunno. It’s just time for a change.’ When Labour left office, the government accounts were in surplus; Now we are billions in debt and that debt increases by around $300 million a week. The Government’s response is the partial sale of state assets. You have to be as thick as two short planks to think that’s good economic management. But that, according to the most recent opinion polls, is precisely what most New Zealanders think. Once upon a time you could argue, ‘People aren’t stupid, you can’t sell them a pig in a poke.’ But that was before the days of shameless self-promotion by photo-opportunity. I’m afraid an awful lot of Kiwis are indeed ‘as thick as two short planks’.

  7. Are you sure John Key didnt write that from experience?

    BE: Not sure at all.

  8. “Where are our main stream media in this? Is it the journalists, the news editors or the owners who decline to comment on the Machiavellian underpinnings of our politicians?”

    Sadly, Richard, the journalists, those in the Gallery in particular, have embraced the cult of their own personality and work their own egos harder than any keyboard. Some politicians are better at flattering them and sucking up to them than others, so they get the good publicity and the others either miss out or get trashed. As Rupert proves, this is where the real power lies, not in the ballot box, or Machiavelli.

  9. The Machiavelli book shown here, and your last posting on Rupert Murdoch, reminds me of the view Machiavelli expounded on attacking a Prince. I hope the politicians in Britain, the USA and Australia remember Machiavelli’s advice.
    If you attack a Prince you must kill him. (or words to that effect).
    If they cannot bring Rupert down they may have cause to fear his wrath in the future.

  10. “I’m afraid an awful lot of Kiwis are indeed ‘as thick as two short planks’”

    Yes well I lost my innocent faith in kiwi intelligence when Winston Peters got in the second time – he was so …obvious.

    Perhaps its time we had some kind of intelligence test embedded in the electoral registration forms – a bit like those mailings we used to get from Readers Digest.. scratch this box, stick this plastic token there, fold this form and put it all in the – don’t sign me up but give the the $100,000 prize – envelope. Or maybe a multi-choice questionnaire.
    I still despair

  11. Tom – you make a good if somewhat sad point. Journos chasing ego glory not the story. And pollies chasing media exposure ( until they don’t want it).

    On a side track , is it just me or have you noticed John Tamihere’s face popping up more often than usual – is he prospecting/angling for a new political role.
    A side effect of cynicism – paranoia.

  12. Helpful at last Brian to see that you are fundamentally an apologist for the Labour Party. An objective observer would have reflected on the “art” of politics and that JK is obviously quite good at it. An objective observer would have noted that there are good reasons to sell down some state assets to deepen our capital markets. An objective oberver would have noted that the last Labour government, while it did some good things, contributed significantly to our economic woes by trading on the benefits of the debt-funded boom. More pertinently an objective oberver would have lauded the fact that National has subjected much of its programme to the electorate at the election in an act of integrity which no recent government has ever come close to.

    BE: I doubt that there’s such a thing in politics as “an objective observer”, your good self excluded of course, Tony.

  13. No Tony

    An objective observer would have noted that there are good reasons to sell down some state assets to deepen our capital markets.

    An objective observer will note that selling the New Zealand Taxpayer’s assets to foreign capital will add another permanent drain to the New Zealand economy.

    An objective oberver would have noted that the last Labour government, while it did some good things, contributed significantly to our economic woes by trading on the benefits of the debt-funded boom.

    An objective observer will not that the debt you discuss is overwhelmingly caused by the private sector, and the National/Act government has done nothing about it. And of course Labour kept delivering surpluses.

    More pertinently an objective oberver would have lauded the fact that National has subjected much of its programme to the electorate at the election in an act of integrity which no recent government has ever come close to.

    A perceptive observer will note that Key actually hasn’t said anything concrete. Employment conditions changes in law that ‘Unions will not like’ is a statement that isn’t defined. If it was defined he’d explain why they won’t like it. Working for Families will be changed, but he doesn’t say how it is changing. Asset Sales – if you think this election is about the government getting a mandate to sell only two months of debt repayment worth of State Assets – you would be an enormous mug.

    Just to remind you Tony, Key went to the 2008 election promising not to change Kiwisaver and GST. Both those promises went out the window. Key isn’t a knight in shining armour, he’s a con man with a cheap shiney lie.

  14. Oh, and Brian, great piece.

  15. Brian it is one thing to imply that the previous Labour government’s economic management was beyond reproach and that National’s policies are stupid. It is something else altogether to imply, as you do, that these are self evident truths. There are many serious analysts who would essentially have an entirely opposite view. Labour relentlessly accelerated Government expenditure through their tenure. This introduced serious distortions in the economy and could be considered to be irresponsible squandering of ideal conditions. We’ll never know how they would have coped with the reversal of their good economic luck with the onset of the global crisis.

    Asset sales tend to be unpopular, but your own argument only reinforces the fact that the kneejerk reaction of the man on the street is hardly germane to the actual merits of the policy. It is ridiculous to pretend the argument is settled either way. It is one of those issues that serious analysts can and do disagree on.

    Some other quibbles; Do you really know that John Key is not a nice man ? I would have thought the evidence suggests you are wrong. And it seems strange for a Phil Goff cheerleader to criticise the PM for sneering, when your man has made an absolute art form of it. It seems to be his prime mode of communication.

    BE: “And it seems strange for a Phil Goff cheerleader to criticise the PM for sneering, when your man has made an absolute art form of it. It seems to be his prime mode of communication.”

    Type in “Goff” under Search on the front page of the site and see whether my writing about him would merit the title “cheerleader”. That said, I’m not aware of Goff’s “prime mode of communication” being the sneer. He’s the Leader of the Opposition. His job is to critique the government’s and its leader’s performance. In proposing a Capital Gains Tax, he has now shown boldness in leadership, entirely in contrast with the “followship” practised by the current Prime Minister. And no, I can see no merit in selling dividend producing assets.

  16. No thicker than any other two short planks down through history – just totally reliant for their political news and “opinion” on the mainstream media. Which, since around 2003, has become increasingly, blatantly, pro-Right partisan as exemplified by Fox News. Daily local examples
    abound, from saturation Key flattery to Espiner’s recent omission of the poll section on CGT.

    Orewa One’s sudden surprise traction gave us the first inkling of the degree and perhaps the method. Hollow Men p.88: Brownlee talks of “conditioning work” and “work done” on the media. “Work” that produced a barrage of editorials and opinion favourable to Brash’s poison.

    And further “work done” since, I would guess, to determine who now controls our newsrooms and talkback shows; and hence the swing voter, hence our governance. Not really too hard to guess the nature of this “work” when you think of how major advertisers vote: perhaps Rupert will give us more details before he finally slithers off.

  17. @ Tony

    “Helpful at last Brian to see that you are fundamentally an apologist for the Labour Party”.

    Yep, I’d have to agree with that assessment in this case, Tony.

    Brian, you don’t like the game of ‘gotcha’, and neither do I, but nevertheless I’ll take you to task on your partisan assessment because you’ve chosen to use an insulting term such as ‘stupid’, as well as implying that it is a self-evident truth that asset sales must be bad.

    “Increasingly I’m coming to the view that you really can fool most of the people most of the time, that, not to put too fine a point on it, people are stupid…It began with the prime reason for changing the government being ‘that it was time to change the government’.

    And it seems some commentators have short memories. Care to remind us all what Labour’s election slogan was in 1972, and who their candidate for Miramar was that year?

    I realise you didn’t make it over the line, and two years later came the bust-up with Big Norm and the party. Nevertheless you campaigned against a government that had delivered a healthy economy and record surpluses because it was “Time for a change”. A year later, overseas economic woes plunged our small, export-dependent economy into a a recession with record deficits. Sound familiar?

    Key is no more responsible for the overseas economic crises that have beset our export-dependent nation than Kirk and Rowling were in 1973-74.

    BE: “And it seems some commentators have short memories. Care to remind us all what Labour’s election slogan was in 1972, and who their candidate for Miramar was that year?”

    Wow – something I said in 2011 inconsistent with something the Labour Party said in 1972! You’ve definitely got me there, Kimbo. But you haven’t gone far enough back. In 1949 I was the (successful) Unionist (= Conservative) candidate in our school’s mock general election, beating the Labour Party candidate hands down. The shame of it!

    As for saying people are ‘stupid’, no one in the country will think I was referring to them and thus no one will be offended.

  18. hahahaha…..I do enjoy this site…a place you can go to to remind me that we are a “stupid” lot….venal is what I would call my fellow New Zealanders………prone to every new cheap deal anyone cares to utter….. 1972 or 2011…WTF….no wonder our brightest, including my own son, leaves for distant shores…..hahahahahaha…sad really….(leaves stage left weeping)

  19. …and at the risk of straining at a gnat

    The point is, Brian, your commentary purports to be a mature insightful analysis, where you have placed yourself above the average voter. No, I’m sure no one will be offended by the word “stupid” when applied to the reason’s for their electoral choice, any more than if I applied the phrase “facile” to your analysis. Comparing a mock school election and a general election to decide the fate of an entire nation would be an example.

    The example you give about desiring change proves very little about voters ‘stupidity’. A reasonable case can be mustered that for the good of democracy, long-serving governments should be turfed out occasionally. Happy to detail why, but as I think you may have lost the plot on this one so far, and the phone was definitely off the hook in your last defensive response, I’ll give it a miss for the moment.

    Instead, the alternative may be that you have lost perspective, that Key is simply politics as normal, there has been no decline “in the last three years”, he is no better or worse than Clark. Instead, he reflects a reality that has occurred since the light-weight and charming JFK beat Nixon in the 1960 US Presidential debate. Or when the great RJ Seddon won elections promising to turn back the yellow peril.
    Cheers

    BE: This is one of the reasons why I had decided not to reply to comments at all. I have to deal with this sort of sophistry. So:

    First, my commentary nowhere “purports to be a mature, insightful analysis”.

    Second, going back 39 years to find a seeming inconsistency (for which, as it happens, I wasn’t responsible) seems somewhat nit-picky, which is the point I was trying to make by my ironic reference to the availability of a much earlier inconsistency. (Note to self: Avoid irony at all costs.)

    As for the desirability of turfing out long term governments “for the good of democracy”, does that principle include turfing out good governments for much worse governments?

    Your final point seems to be that Key is no worse than many politicians and politics today are no worse than they have always been. That’s ‘reality’ and no point worrying about it. In other words, a counsel of despair.

    Anyway, sorry about being facile, having lost the plot, lost perspective, left the phone off the hook, and been defensive. But delighted that you’re “happy to detail” precisely where I’ve gone wrong.

  20. Re: I’m afraid an awful lot of Kiwis are indeed ‘as thick as two short planks’.

    Boy, you can say that again. How else can you account for Helen Clark getting twice re-elected?

  21. “This is one of the reasons why I had decided not to reply to comments at all. I have to deal with this sort of sophistry”

    …and why it is probably a waste of time seeking feedback from you anyway, as you seem to have a steel first, and a glass jaw.

    “First, my commentary nowhere “purports to be a mature, insightful analysis”

    Copy and paste from your website: Brian is one of New Zealand’s most respected broadcasters and writers…he’s been media advisor to four New Zealand Prime Ministers and to hundreds of top people in the public and private sectors.

    “Second, going back 39 years to find a seeming inconsistency (for which, as it happens, I wasn’t responsible) seems somewhat nit-picky”

    You stood, you campaigned, you were responsible. I’ll let others with a wider perspective decide if I’m nit-picky. And yeah, saw the attempt at irony. Seemed more like a man dismissing a pertinent point, as one does with lint. But just my opinion. As was yours.

    “As for the desirability of turfing out long term governments “for the good of democracy”, does that principle include turfing out good governments for much worse governments?”

    Nope. But then who decides what is good or bad? I’m simply suggesting your judgement is astray in the matter, and have detailed why. Thought we called that debate.

    “Your final point seems to be that Key is no worse than many politicians and politics today are no worse than they have always been. That’s ‘reality’ and no point worrying about it. In other words, a counsel of despair”.

    Yep to the first point, absolutely not to the second – hence the need to have good and able commentators to raise the standard of debate and analysis. Thought, as detailed above, you missed the mark.

    Trust that answers your final point. Also, note to self: “Sorry” in certain contexts is irony.

  22. BE> And no, I can see no merit in selling dividend producing assets.

    Dividend producing assets are bought and sold all the time. A willing buyer engages a willing seller, the genius of the free market. The idea is that the sale price captures the net present value of all future dividends. I am sorry, but you are not coming across as qualified to lecture the public for their “stupidity”, in matters of economics anyway.

    BE: Sorry about my appalling ignorance of economics, Bill. However, I see a difference between an individual or company selling dividend producing assets, probably with a few to buying other assets or investment and a government partly selling dividend producing assets owned by the people to pay off debt.

  23. Great to see Kimbo finally coming-out as a proud, in-your-face apologist for the Nats. Last year, he was desperate to portray himself as an objective, neutral, contrarian. Good to see him moving in a more honest direction, openly revealing his true political colours over recent months.

  24. “Great to see Kimbo finally coming-out as a proud, in-your-face apologist for the Nats”.

    And that’s the sort of witless analysis that leads me to suspect that the original post showed a lack of objectivity.

    I haven’t even defended asset sales – simply pointed out that it is not a self-evident truth they are a sign of economic mismanagement. It seems to be the only ‘fact’ that has been offered to support the assertion that “you thought you needed responsible, well-thought-out policies and principles”.

    But if this is simply a love-in for the chattering class, go for it. Confirms my disappointment with the quality of the original discussion point.

    I’ll acknowledge BE’s expertise regarding media. However, don’t see what expertise or specialist skills he has to decide what is and isn’t good policy or government any more than anyone else.

    I actually admire Labour for having the guts to propose a Capital Gains Tax, and actually make this election about policy, rather than the tedious “battle for the middle ground” that has typified our politics for too long – which inevitably leads down the path of the bland photo ops that we all seem to loathe.

    Oh yeah – and that Labour government of 1972 – it was indeed time for a change. National at the time may have been good custodians economically, but we sure needed the birth of an independent foreign policy, and Big Norm delivered that in spades. Which is still one aspect where Labour still inevitably trumps the Nats every time.

  25. Absolutely right Brian….i think much the same about kiwis whenever i see a poll result…how can there be such support for a do nothing government with no plan…except smile!

    I always believed that to vote for the nats…you have to be either thick or someone who says “screw you” whenever they see people needing help!….

  26. Brian, it has come to my attention that in 1943, you said that ‘All girls are silly’ or words to that effect, in front of not a few witnesses in the playground. Yet later, you act like women are sensible enough to vote. Outrageous!

    How can you justify your inconsistency to the New Zealand public? Surely, you could not have that much gall.

  27. BE: Increasingly I’m coming to the view that you really can fool most of the people most of the time, that, not to put too fine a point on it, people are stupid.

    These kinds of statements don’t really contribute to the debate – and reinforce the right wing argument that liberals are elitist snobs. Were people stupid in the elections of 2005, 2002, 1999, 1987, 1984, 1972 etc etc as well?

    Most people vote from gut feel, their assessment of leaders characters and what they think a party will do (as opposed to what they say they will do) not an intellectual analysis of policy statements.

    Does that mean they are occasionally fooled into voting against their own interest? Undoubtably yes, and that’s why a three year term is better than a longer one.

    I don’t agree with the point of this column – that Key has high poll ratings because he’s tricking the electorate via Macchiavellian techniques – why is it so hard to believe that people see through the flim-flam on both sides, and at the end of the day just prefer one more than the other, and may not particularly like either.

    BTW – Macchiavelli was in fact a very unsuccessful politician, and had a high level of ethics by the standards of his time. (But then his competition were the Borgias and the Medicis!)

  28. National is the party of farmers and shopkeepers. Labour is the party of teachers and trade unionists. Some people feel a natural affinity to one worldview or the other and regularly vote accordingly. Others are not so inclined, and tend to be swinging voters. It has nothing to do with being thick or nasty. Suggesting it does makes you sound smug and superior. Your voting habits don’t make you a better person!

    BE: I don’t recall describing anyone as “nasty”. And suggesting that JK has made unprecedented use of the photo-op to advance his career (which he has) doesn’t really seem to me to merit his supporters getting their knickers in quite such a twist.

  29. Kimbal is a trifle too supercilious for my taste.I am not sure what his “history” qualifications are.

    The National govt in the ’60s was not really an example of great economic stewardship. The surpluses at that time were primarily due to an expanding world economy, a guaranteed market (the UK), cyclically high commodity prices and relatively low unemployment.

    National then (and now) looked after the farmers and a few other mates.

    Behind “smiling assassin” Key are some of the same ratbags who came up with past disasters that include the energy sector, “CHEs”, leaky buildings (“sector deregulation”) etc etc.

    The voting populace seem to be in a hypnotic trance.

  30. “An objective oberver would have noted that the last Labour government, while it did some good things, contributed significantly to our economic woes by trading on the benefits of the debt-funded boom.”

    Tony, that is rubbish. A cursory study of Labour’s economic/fiscal performance reveals that,

    * Labour paid off nearly all our sovereign debt, that had been borrowed by National (sound familiar) in the 1990s. http://www.treasury.govt.nz/government/financialstatements/yearend/jun10/09.htm/fs10-14.gif

    * Labour went from deficits to surpluses – whilst at the same time implementing tax cuts. That’s a pretty neat achievement in anyone’s books!

    * Labour maintained a steady economic policy that resulted in low unemployment – 3.8% before the Recession blasted our unemployment back to 1991 levels.

    * Whilst maintaining a relatively open economy, Labour re-nationalised Air New Zealand and NZ Rail – both of which had been run into the ground and faced bankruptcy at the hands of it’s corporate owners. (So much for “Private Enterprise can do it better”!)

    These are all facts for anyone who cares to look them up.

    If you want to attempt to re-write history, you’re at liberty to do so. Just be aware that it gives us ample opportunity to remind everyone that, hey, Labour actually did a pretty decent job.

  31. And of all of the above, this one is probably the most descriptive of the current government;

    “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time. But you can fool a majority for just long enough.”

  32. “When Labour left office, the government accounts were in surplus; Now we are billions in debt and that debt increases by around $300 million a week.”

    The facts are undeniable Brian, but in winning the last election National did actually take a hospital pass: the world’s cash crisis was always going to be a serious kick in the slats for anyone foolish enough to win the last election. The best thing National could’ve done to promote itself would’ve been to let Labour win.

  33. “you have to be either thick or someone who says “screw you” whenever they see people needing help!….”

    Nice one, Kerry. “Screw you” is just what the Nats have said to thousands of householders needing help in Christchurch when they offered to buy their derelict homes and their quick-sand sections for pre-recession values. It’s nice to see political dogma ingrained so deep as to ensure not even the facts come to light.

  34. BE> I don’t recall describing anyone as “nasty”. And suggesting that JK has made unprecedented use of the photo-op to advance his career (which he has) doesn’t really seem to me to merit his supporters getting their knickers in quite such a twist.

    Sorry Brian my comment was actually directed at Kerry not you. She said;

    “I always believed that to vote for the nats…you have to be either thick or someone who says “screw you” whenever they see people needing help!….”

    I see that as being smug and superior. She(?) is claiming people who think differently than her are either thick or lacking in empathy. I take exception to that as I know it’s not the case (being non-thick and very empathetic myself :-). I don’t think my comments can in any way be construed as “getting my knickers in a twist”.

  35. Hmmm, this has dropped off the front page and I am left wondering whether BE has seen my apology. I have a lot of respect for our host and it bothers me greatly that he thinks I disparaged him excessively.