Brian Edwards Media

Long run or short season for David Cunliffe?

Cunliffe and Key

When you’ve read this short post have a look at the interview below with David Cunliffe on last night’s Campbell Live .  But first,  if you haven’t done so already, please  read my previous post on the ex Labour leader, titled “Some acting experience an advantage but not required”.

To be absolutely fair to David  Cunliffe, I should perhaps add that, like all senior politicians, he has on his team people whose job it is to advise him on media issues, to analyse and comment on his radio and television appearances and to prepare him for upcoming interviews and debates, possibly by workshopping those exchanges. Their job is not to ra-ra their employer’s efforts but to be brutally frank in critically analysing his performance.

The blame for Cunliffe’s misguided and vote-losing approach to his exchanges with the Prime Minister during the last election and particularly his final televised debate with John Key on TV One, must be proportionally shared with those advisers.  

The best television interviews look like chats. The tone is relaxed, the language informal, the posture forward, demonstrating interest and keenness. In last night’s interview with Campbell, Cunliffe’s tone is defensive and overbearing, his language formal and high-flown, his posture rigidly erect. His replies are repetitive and little more than a series of mini-speeches. He is talking at rather than to Campbell and the interviewer’s impatience and frustration become increasingly evident during the discussion. At one point Campbell accuses the former Labour Leader of being disingenuous.

I have from time to time quoted my old friend Ian Fraser’s adage that to be successful in television interviews you have to learn to “act yourself”. I think the rationale behind this advice was that the nerves that affect most people appearing on television make it virtually impossible for them to “be themselves”. But on the whole I incline to the view that the real you, however nervous, will make a better impression on your audience than some unreal you looking confident and in control.

The real David Cunliffe might well succeed. The actor David Cunliffe can expect only bad reviews and a short season.

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  1. Succinct and perspicacious Brian.

  2. Maybe he needs your media advice Brian.

    David Cunliffe is both caring and clever and, when he first took over the leadership of the Labour Party, he was a confident and convincing communicator. Then, from the beginning of this year he faced unprecedented personal attacks in the media.

    Having read “Dirty Politics” I believe this was an orchestrated attack plan designed to destroy his self confidence. And it worked. He seemed less sure of himself at the very time that National Party MPs and a few of the Nat friendly media started calling him tricky at every opportunity.Statements were taken out of context and this made him be more careful about what he said. The result was he began to look false.

    I think the real David Cunliffe is a decent human being who needs more time to convince voters of the real man behind the image.

    • I agree with Karen. He doesn’t “appeal” to me, but I don’t want a PM I look up to and follow. Just someone reasonably decent who will do a good job. I think the blame for National getting back into power falls entirely on those who voted for them. They’ve had plenty enough information over the past three years to make an informed choice. They have decided they want to lose their workers rights, are prepared to sacrifice their rivers, be spied on, live in Christchurch and not see any progress – all because they love John Key so much. I think all National voters have forfeited the right to complain for the next three years.

      • The arrogance of this post is breathtaking. National voters did make an informed choice, they just don’t see things the way you do. I believe it’s called democracy.

      • Come on David..this is glib and petulant. How can there be ‘blame’ attached to an election result..the people spoke, but in a language you don’t like. Tough.
        Kind regards from a ChCh voter who voted for their Lab candidate & the Nats.

    • Well, I read ‘Dirty Politics’ too and my overall impression was that the book was primarily an expose of corruption and ‘dirty politics’ at the highest level in the National Party. I may have missed the attack on Cunliffe.

      • Brian, I suggest you go back and read pages 48-49 and 126-133.

        David Cunliffe is not blameless, and has made mistakes, but I think he is smart enough to learn from them.

        I also think a few sessions with you may help.

    • Is your surname “Price”?

    • He paid the “Price”, Karen.

      • I think you will find, Fabian, that Karen is quite a common name. I have no personal relationship with David Cunliffe, and have, in fact, only met him once in my life and that was very brief.

  3. The odd thing about the Cunliffe interview was that he was hauled into the studio and made to sit on a stool -which doesn’t exactly induce all the lovey dovey lean in-stuff you have referred to.

    The interview with John Key was stage managed by John Key’s people to take place on his territory in a calm, authoritative environment to induce Campbell to believe he was being given special access to the prime minister. The soft lighting only missed a soft filter on the lens to be what porn is to art in terms of news or current affairs reporting or hard line interviewing.

    The stage management of these kinds of media events is important and Key’s team know it, just as the German government had the sense to commission Leni Riefenstahl for their spectacles.

    Cunliffe is adrift with very poor advice being given. He is a perfect metaphor for the Labour Party who, by comparison to the National Party opt for domestic chaos of The Osbornes over the the Berlin Olympics of 1936.

    • “hauled into” the studio? “made to” sit on a stool? interview with Key “stage managed”? (by whom?) National taking lessons from the Nazis?

      Hmmm. Just a soupcon of paranoia here, David?

      • 3.1.1

        Every political event post ww2 has adopted the nazi talent for propaganda and spectacle – it is an innate part of the semiotics of modern media (like it or not – the 36 Olympics and 84 version had little to distinguish them other than colour TV coverage). So, no, not being paranoid – just an observation.
        I stand by the comparison of key being interviewed in an environment where he seemed to control the tone. Cunliffe showed up in the studio – a rube/lamb to be slaughtered. Since the minister of energy made a fool of himself on Campbell live few government mps have been willing to front and if they do they adhere so diligently to their talking points the audience would learn more from Shortland St on the in between channel. However, one interview was lean-in and the other sit back and smoke a ceegar.

        • We will have to agree to differ. It has become popular these days to brand anything one dislikes as Nazi or Fascist. The comparison is almost always far-fetched and odious. Nazi propaganda was aimed at the creation of a master race and the genocide of an entire people. I see nothing remotely like this on New Zealand television.

          • Sorry Brian, agreeing to differ assumes that both arguments have equal, untested merit.

            I am not labelling anyone fascist (though that term has been tainted by its association with Nazis and Mussolini and may not be as bad it connotes). It is disingenuous to imply I even spoke for a moment about ‘master races’ or any of that sort of thing. I referred specifically to management of the message. Like it or not Goebbels was probably the true father of modern spin.

            I was referring to stage management of an event or the presentation of a political leader to persuade the public that they have certain characteristics. If you look at someone in a brightly lit studio your impression of them will be different (and not subtly so) than if you are invited into ‘their world’…the soft tones of a wood panelled room imply sonorous authority and, in the case of the John Key interview with John Campbell put the subject at ease. I said it was stage managed and it definitely was. I don’t know who rigged it (as in setting, lighting etc) but let’s assume it was a negotiation to preserve any integrity Campbell Live might have. They probably thought it was a ‘coup’ – as in first interview with the PM elect.

            Ironically an illustration of the effect of being on your own turf was never better than when Cunliffe was interviewed at home with his wife – the talking points set aside – that was the first time he didn’t look like a two dollar shop ‘statesman’ costume.

            The whole business of political interviews is fraught at the moment – are they to inform, entertain or (the fashionable term of the moment) engage the audience? In NZ we seem to be in a dead-zone where people like Simon Bridges don’t seem to have an intellect that is agile enough to convey information in a guileless way – without losing his temper or Stephen Joyce who’s hubris and patronising demeanor doesn’t make for good TV. I suppose the shift will be, as has been suggested, away from the pointless noise of political coverage over to banal My Kitchen Rules distraction – politicians won’t be accountable. Media will regard ratings as the measure of their efficacy and voter turn-out will continue to decline.

            The Financial Times has some interesting commentary here:


            • “Sorry Brian, agreeing to differ assumes that both arguments have equal, untested merit.”

              No, it means in this case that I saw no great merit in debating the matter further.

              Cheers. Brian

  4. The lunatics are taking over the asylum…and it’s a “broad church” asylum doncha know ??!!

  5. I read this the other day. DC is certainly guilty of the first two sins and possibly the third.

  6. Isn’t behind the scenes manipulation, proxy and anonymous targeting in the media (social and MSM) what has been pilloried by Hager and some on the left as some sort of #dirtypolitics, practiced only by Nats?

    Bad judgement on Ms Price’s part. The fallout of her anonymously advocating and endeavouring to influence political conversation is to add to the perception of Cunliffe’s inauthenticity and underhandedness.

    As these are characteristics often ascribed to him by his detractors, in my opinion spousal collaboration can only be another nail in his political coffin.

    • My god, there are a hell of a lot of perfect individuals out there, who’ve never done anything remotely inappropriate in a fraught situation to defend their partner or their children. I’m glad I’m not one of you bloodless, self-satisfied critics of Karen Price. And particularly glad that I don’t have to depend on you when I make an error of judgement in defending my wife or children.

  7. Regarding Karen Price’s “error of judgement”, politics is not for the faint-hearted. Criticism and intense media scrutiny are part of what her husband signed up to in his pursuit of power. The old adage regarding heat and kitchens comes to mind.