Something out of Nothing: McCarten’s Impossible Task
Just as effective political attacks simply add ink to what is already traced in pencil, effective campaigns capitalize on and amplify existing or nascent political sentiment.
In by-elections, such “penciled-in” sentiments can include:
- The government needs a kick up the arse! In seats where the traditional opposition is not politically viable – for example, East Coast Bays and Tamaki – this opens the way for strong showing from third party candidates.
- A plague on both their houses! When both major parties are regarded as indistinguishably bad, a third party gets a look in. This sentiment propels Green support in Australia today, and drove H. Ross Perot’s support in the 1992 US Presidential campaign.
- Single Issue-mania! A compelling local issue – roading/traffic/planning, etc. — can drive voters to the arms of an independent or third party candidate, but rarely enough to win.
- The candidate is gold! Big name candidates can sway votes, but usually at the margins. Using Australia as an example, local hero candidates actually do better as a rule than high-profile national figures.
These messages are more problematic:
- Send the Opposition a message! This worked for the Alliance in the wake of the Douglas/Prebble era where the Labour vote was effectively split in two. This is not the case usually – and certainly isn’t now.
- Candidate X Wants to be an MP!
- Raise the Minimum Wage! More Dolphins! Specific policy commitments coming from third party or independent candidates carry about as much weight among voters as they deserve.
- I will stand up for you! No one owns me! Being a lone voice in the political system can be an asset –when the political system itself is seen as broken – but this is not such a time. Lone voice translates to no power, and voters don’t need to be told this.
There is no compelling rationale for Matt McCarten’s candidacy beyond his own apparent desire to run and his personal reluctance to forgive Labour.
As such, McCarten has to create a reason to vote for him because none really exists beyond things that could apply to any candidacy for anything, anywhere: voters deserve choice, he’s a better candidate, he stands for important things, etc. This is never good. This leads to the laughable minimum wage “promise”, among other meaningless policy commitments .
There is no appetite for him, so McCarten needs to convince people they are hungry. Even if his starry-eyed fanbois are right about his awesome charisma and mind-blowing political skills, that is an impossible ask.