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Chris Trotter takes a look at the impending election year social media battle with a stern warning for the former student politicians of the Labour Party

Chris Trotter takes a look at the impending election year social media battle with a stern warning for the former student politicians of the Labour Party

By Chris Trotter*

A few days ago I watched Ben Guerin bringing a right-wing American audience up to speed on social media campaigning. The YouTube lecture had been recorded shortly after Scott Morrison’s surprise election victory in Australia. I couldn’t help admiring the poise and confidence of this 20-something Kiwi. By the end of the video I was left with the strong impression that I had seen the future of political campaigning – and it works.

Obviously my admiration for Guerin’s “very particular set of skills” had been boosted by the impact of his and Sean Topham’s wickedly effective parody of “Love Actually” on the outcome of the British General Election. As one wag tweeted back here in New Zealand, Labour has nothing to fear from Topham-Guerin Ltd in 2020 – National can no longer afford them!

The tweeter is, of course, quite wrong. Labour has everything to fear from Topham-Guerin. Regardless of whether these two former-Young Nats come back home to fight for a National-led Government, the techniques they have perfected over the course of the last 3-4 years will unquestionably play a major role in the 2020 general election.

In essence, the Topham-Guerin technique is a twenty-first century campaigner’s riff on a nineteenth-century soldier’s insight. It was the Confederate General, Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is said to have quipped to his comrade, General Basil W. Duke: “Battles are won by generals who get there firstest with the mostest.” Certainly, in the weeks running up to the June election in Australia, Guerin and his team comprehensively outgunned Labor’s social media warriors. By the end of the campaign they were slapping-up in excess of 200 social media posts per week – twice as many as their opponents.

It wasn’t just in numbers that Guerin and Topham enjoyed a clear superiority, but in their ability to first arouse the emotions and then secure the engagement and active support of the (mostly) Facebook users they targeted. That word, “arousal”, is the key to understanding what we can expect to encounter in 2020. Fear, greed, anger, pride, indignation, solidarity: these are the feelings that must be triggered if a political party’s propaganda is to cause voters to stop scrolling down on their devices. These “arousal emotions”, says Guerin, are the key to winning what he calls “The Battle of the Thumbs”.

The question facing Labour in New Zealand isn’t just one of being able to match the National Party in the number of posts per week it can slap up on Facebook. (The British Labour Party boasted of winning the social media war against Boris Johnson’s Tories!) What will really count is whether or not its communications strategists can match the clear-headed and disarmingly amoral cynicism of Topham-Guerin and their imitators.

In assessing the worth of a piece of propaganda, the Left’s woke SJWs may ask themselves: “Is this sexist/racist/homophobic/anti-trans?” God bless ‘em, they may even ask: “Is it true?” (It is reported that upwards of 80 percent of the Tories campaign material contained untrue statements, while Labour’s messages contained zero percent.) For better or worse, the Right sees the struggle for political power rather more clearly. The only question its young tyros ask in the digital battle for hearts and minds is: “Will it work?” In the end, it was the Right’s cynical pragmatism – not the left’s diligent honesty – that proved to be the best policy in the UK general election.

Does Labour have the courage to dissemble? The wisdom to manipulate? I have my doubts. Much has already been written about the Corbyn debacle being the inevitable outcome of putting student politicians in charge of a large centre-left political party. Or, in the vivid description of Josie Pagani, published in the NZ Herald of 18/12/19: “Working-class people in the North, Wales and the North East, in seats that have been Labour for 80 years, walked away from a party that chose the university common room over the smoko room. Purity over power.” Every bit as much as I am, Pagani is aware that Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party possesses more than its fair share of ex-student politicians.

Next year’s election will be determined by how adept Labour’s ex-student politicians are at tailoring their party’s message to the values and aspirations of ordinary and (necessarily in this dog-eat-dog world of ours) conservative working-class New Zealanders. Put another way, are they prepared to set aside their own views on race, gender, immigration, colonisation, hate speech and the Treaty, if it is made clear to them, through polling and focus group data, that these policies, which may play well in the university common room, are going down like a cup of cold sick in the nation’s smoko rooms?

In the end this will come down to political temperament. For the likes of Ben Guerin and Sean Topham, Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett, politics is about what will work and what will win. Unfortunately, for far too many in the NZ Labour Party of 2020, it’s about being right, and better.

It’s been a besetting sin of the Labour Party for the best part of 30 years. I first encountered it in the first rush of Rogernomics, when I heard MP after MP attest that if “doing the right thing” meant losing his or her seat, and the party losing office, then that was a price they were willing to pay. These chilling words (for a practical politician) were made even more frightening by the messianic glint in the MPs’ eyes. Political parties only say “it’s a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done” when they’re about to have their heads cut off!

Not that the enemies of Rogernomics were any better. It takes the truest of “true believers” to set in motion, on behalf of the Taliban, the self-immolation of an astonishingly successful left-wing party. Even so, in the aftermath of 9/11, the left of Jim Anderton’s Alliance were more than willing to splash about the petrol of “anti-imperialism” and strike a match. When you are absolutely convinced that you are right, Lenin’s famous dictum, “fewer, but better”, makes perfect sense. Never mind that everyone else has written you off as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”.

It may already be too late for Labour. Quite apart from the promises they have not kept, there are the promises (or, at least, the plans) they show every sign of implementing. Andrew Little seems set on a “progressive” transformation of New Zealand’s justice and prison systems. And there are signs that radically expanded “hate speech” legislation may not be far away. This latter possibility should be seen as the single biggest threat to the re-election of a Labour-NZ First-Green government.

If David Seymour is gifted the role of championing freedom of speech against the censoring inclinations of Labour and the Greens, then there is a strong likelihood that Act’s numbers will improve to the point where, far from being National’s useless Epsom appendix, it finds itself acting as Simon Bridges’ strong right hand in the seizure of the Treasury benches.

Nothing is more likely to secure victory for National in the “Battle of the Thumbs” than a Labour-led government pig-headed enough to build footpaths where nobody wants to walk, and crazy enough to then pour scorn on its (erstwhile) followers for refusing to use them.

*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. His work may be found at He writes a fortnightly column for

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It's not a left, right thing.

Look at the USA election and how Hiliary's campaigning in concert with cnn, MSNBC, WP & NYT positioned her supporters to be utterly ill prepared for a Republican win.

Most are still triggered and suffer TDS.

For contrast, see here and how non triggered, non protesting, non try to unpick the COL formation, national supporters were when the minority parties crafted a COL excluding the largest voting block.

This is because the alt right secretly knows that progressives are right, secretly they are happy to have a progressive government, while progressives know that they are right and everyone else is wrong and as progressives we will fight to death for what is right. Our civilisation is at stake and we can't let people stand in the way of progress.


. . as a nation built on free range farming we ought to fight vegetarianism and veganisationing ...

Our civilization is at steak ....

Moore context,
Matt Taibbi
Michael Moore

Have you ever considered that Trump and his supporters can't handle that in the popular vote Hillary won more votes , or that the Republicans were beaten twice by Obama or that FDR won four elections ( in other words how far back do you go for an "excuse"). The right seem to have a fear and loathing of both Hillary and Obama ( who can't even run for president). Why? Is it because their whole ideology is proving to be wrong ? Just saying.

Hillary entered the race with Trumpie, after cheating Bernie out of the race, knowing exactly what the deal was. She lost, he won.

@badrobot............Bollocks , Trump won the election fair and square , and 3 years later the Dems have not got over it , trying all manner of antics to impede his Presidency .

The popular vote was with Clinton, it was the electoral system that won Trump the presidency. And you need to get over the fact that we have a government you don't like. Goose/gander

Trump won because
Democrats import voters
In multicultural countries voting is on ethnic lines (as in South Africa)

@Henry _Tull, the next election will see the electorate give this DO-NOTHING bunch of losers a huge hiding .

You cannot alienate , constantly criticize , and castigate the productive sector like business and farmers , who pay the taxes, without a backlash.

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
You cannot build character and courage by destroying men's initiative and independence.
And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.”

The government and its acolytes have presented virtually no evidence that high non-citizen immigration confers any economic advantage apart from goosing GDP in the short-term. But it doesn’t really need to put forward any credible economic justification for the tide of humanity entering the country because it has so many willing cheerleaders in the media. They echo their employers’ point of view, who want to continue with the mass importations to keep their own businesses afloat, in large part through collecting advertising revenue from the artificially boosted housing market. The NZ Herald, in particular, presents a slew of pro-immigration articles and very rarely opposing voices (except in letters to the editor).

All well and good but you still need a leader that people can admire. A croaky voice Mormon is not going to win the nation over.

Sadly, style almost always wins over substance. Then again, being deficient in the latter is a death knell when lacking the former... :)


I am amused at the subtle and sometimes unsubtle partisan tone of this opinion piece.

I especially like the juxtaposition of the complaint about credulous people not fact checking social media "data", followed by an incredibly unlikely claim, that has the only reported source as "it was reported...". This kind of writing is precisely why journalism is now held in similar regard as used car salesmen and politicians.

Your sentiment is fair but this particular example (misleading ads) was very well covered post-election:

It should also come as no surprise following revelation of some of the Cambridge Analytica techniques used to manipulate elections.

The fact checking body here has more to say about things here: It's not that the Left is blameless in misleading the electorate but they've certainly fallen behind the Right in efficiency of manipulation.

Who are the fact checkers? I would put any money that they are partisan remainers. If publications like NYT, Washington Post, NYT, BBC, the Independent.... destroy any lingering reputation for their impartiality, of course people are going treat their fact checking as just more fake news. Ordinary people have no faith in the media, and even worse no faith in academia. We are in a post truth world.

Going straight for the source...

But in fact they discuss specific examples and highlight why they are dishonest.

One can follow the links to read from the source rather than the fake news headline that falsely claims that most of the tory ads were false and none of the Labour ads were false. But, that would be responsible fact checking... it is much easier to be credulous and just accept headlines as being accurate. I found it interesting in that an ad was deemed to be lying even if all claims in the ad were true, but the ad had a link to a website that had false or misleading claims.


I’ve made the case before that Trotter is one of the few thinkers on the left worth listening to. Someone who can resist the partisan hysteria. This piece is just the opposite. Casting UK Labour as truth tellers and the Tories as massive liars is just incredible.

Our national party seems to outright lie in social media. Weren’t labour’s fuel taxes going to cost the average family $40 a week; just how much fuel do they think people consume? And that ad campaign about labour’s 7 new taxes, probably only one of which was true (fuel tax increase - if you call that a new tax). And a lot of people still believe all this crap - taxinda etc.

@RollingOn............ Thank you for pointing out the obvious , unlike you , I hold the view that Trotter is so far to the left he struggles to make a right turn at an intersection .

Of course all the lefties have no response to the use of social media by those in the centre or right in getting their views across , so they bang the liar drum endlessly , and it wears thin .

We know better , fortunately .

It is Chris Trotter. We have known and loved his columns and politics for donkey's years. His column is called From The Left for obvious reasons. We love to picture Chris tearing his hair out in frustration with the Labour Party's shenanigans time and time again!

Labour shouldn't need to tailor their message to conservative working classes, those rednecks and bogans need to wake up and stop living in the past.


... gimmee one good reason why we should " wake up and stop living in the past " ....

Because it is the past, not the present or the future. Things change.


... thankyou ... I am indeed informed and improved ... wonderful ...

Might crank up the gramophone and play some 78's to celebrate .... yeah , cool man ... far out ....

I'm glad I could help you. But things are constantly changing - during my lifetime our knowledge of the world has changed dramatically, the world has changed - the USSR has collapsed, the US I'm not unconvinced is close to collapse (sorry about the double negative), China can't even control a former British colony and the list could go on.......

And yet during my lifetime there have been at least three genocides - Kampuchea , Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. It seems hatred and intolerance never changes.

So what's actually changed? That's all been going on for , well forever.

I do list a few things , but if you have comprehension problems well........

Gummy, does this fit the 78?
No diss to Jimmy, James Packer
Ex girlfriends can become muddling

Or earlier

One thing to be aware of in any comment thread is being trolled...Skuvdiv has escaped from under his bridge.


our labour led government is pig-headed about immigration and it overloading our infrastructure,that will be the only thing that could stop them from walking all over bridges,if he is still leader in 2020


The Gnats will not burn their bridges , not with less than 12 months till the polls ... besides , he is gaining some traction ...

... and David Seymour , " star pollie of the year " ... ought to get 2 seats for ACT next year ....

Unthinkable 2 years ago that the COL could only last one term .... but , they have been simply dreadful as a government .. . A shocker...

I am quite happy with them, improving housing affordability while not crashing the market, quite a balancing act.


Labour is being dishonest over immigration, yeah. Problem is that National are only going to encourage more of the same and even open up more... they've also seemed to suggest opening up housing to foreign buyers again.


Unfortunately both sides are as bad as each other. At one point I though Labour were the best of a bad bunch - now they are all just bad everything (polices, leaders etc). New Zealand next year will get the government it deserves not the government it needs.

EDIT : removed the extra "the"


As per all the previous comments - immigration: it is not a debate about for or against it is quantity. Both of NZ's significant political parties believe we need roughly three times the rate of immigration as other countries. Why? Other than inflating house prices I haven't the foggiest idea. One paracetamol can be good for you - it is dumb to take three.

It's about headline GDP growth and keeping the natives demographically marginalised lest they turn on their colonial masters.

Labour accepted the neoliberal surplus narrative. It was never going to be possible to have growth while extracting a surplus in the face of declining foreign house buyers, and slowing credit impulse. Immigration had to be kept high. What worries me is that GDP per capita is going backwards when it should, in theory, do the opposite and scale superliniarly with population density.

Thank you fat pat .........I also dont like surpluses ...........if the Government does not need the money, as is evidenced by the surplus , it should not take the money from us in taxes in the first place .

We can afford to raise cheap money for Capex projects on international or even domestic markets , and let taxpayers keep more of what they work for

Not sure if ACT has the requisite substance to resurrect themselves sufficiently. One Swallow does not etc.

ACT is like Dr Who - every so often the person changes and only the name stays the same.


The Labour/Greens draconian position on freedom of speech combined with National’s indifference on this issue is the main reason I’ll be voting ACT next election. TOP is just as regressive as the Greens when it comes to this. There are plenty of other reasons I support ACT, but this is the most fundamental concern I have.

Can you please provide a link - I'm genuinely interested in / concerned if this is true.

Do your own research. Andrew Little thinks opposing the Maori seats is hate speech and wants to fine you for it.

... Andrew " Little " needs to shake off and distance himself from his narrow minded Aglo-Saxon roots ...

And rebrand himself into the 21'st century as " Andrew Small-but-not-weird-looking-person-of-restricted-growth " ...

Edit: Justice Minister Andrew Little is on record as saying he wants to add new ‘protected categories’ to the Human Rights Act, strengthen its enforcement, and follow the UK’s lead on hate speech law. Criminalising criticism of religious groups is a backwards step after we recently did away with blasphemy laws.

Thank you.

EDIT - yes it does make me wonder where do we start and more importantly where do we stop. Perhaps Mr Little should avoid some of the postings on YouTube - they may offend.

Gharaman wants " to protect religious groups, gender and the Rainbow community." from hate speech. Thats interesting because religious groups speak out about the other two groups as part of core beliefs. Witness the case of Israel Folau, I agree he has a right to what he said though not in the manner he did and I do not agree that he should have got money. If we weren't so touchy and woosy he would have carried on to play for the wallabies without issue. Are Gharaman and Little creating a problem where there really isnt one, I wont be voting for either of those two lead heads.

Her fellow Green MPs seem quite happy with ageism, sexism and racism. As long as they get to choose the target.


They don’t even try to hide their racism, sexism and illiberalism, yet they still think they are “the good guys” with the moral high ground. Bunch of cry-bullies too.

... OK .. .. boomer ....

Bah, humbug. Now get off my lawn :-)

The age wars work both ways - turn on talk back radio and see how many boomers are having a whinge about the no good kids these days. Hate speak about a minority is quite different.

Hate speech is hate speech, whether it's about a minority or not is irrelevant.

New hate crime laws can't come soon enough. Would be great to see Chloe and Julie Anne led away in handcuffs for their crimes. That would be the logical consequence of these laws. I would laugh so hard.

Ditch the Witch!!!!

You can criticize religion all you like, I do, always will, but criticizing those who follow a certain faith or religion is not, you play the ball not the man

The point about free speech is context. Shouting 'Fire' is illegal if it deliberately causes a stampede in a confined space; carrying a Union Jack is illegal if you are going to watch a Glasgow Rangers v Celtic match (you are not displaying patriotism - you are looking for a fight).
There is no need for legislation. Even if they do pass laws against 'Hate' I will ignore them because the right to hate is too important to me to allow anyone to restrict it. However yet again it depends on context. For example I may (in fact do) hate pedeophiles but I can imagine circumstances (say in a prison) where the true accusation would predictably lead to acts of violence against a pedeophile and that is and should be illegal.
Isn't it obvious that the one context for free speech to always be available is at a university debate.

You live in Epsom by any chance?

No. Won’t necessarily be a wasted party vote though - polls have ACT on 2%, which would be enough for an extra Act MP, assuming they hold Epsom.

A fascinating Kiwi duo (BG & ST) on the world stage alright, with their work in Australia in particular, magnetic. The Australian Liberal Party Coalition weren't even close, according to the murky media & their prissy pollsters, but guess who was not telling the truth in the end?
This left of centre righteousness that everyone keeps telling me about, is puzzling me. If they are, as you say, always right, then why can't the rest of the people see that? What's right about being unable to convince others of your point of view? Especially if you want to be in power. Maybe it could be that the lefts's point of view is the one that's questionable. Education doesn't create righteousness. Having good morals are as righteousness as anything else. All education seems to do is puff up.

Everyone believes that they are "right" - but no one can admit they are "wrong". Truth is we are all "wrong" - not everyone believes the same thing , not everyone thinks the same way. I think that is an uncomfortable truth for the both the left and right. That is why I think we have such a bitter divide - partisanship gone rogue / mad.

Surely in hindsight people can admit they were wrong. There was a time where the majority of people thought women shouldn’t vote, that prostitution should be illegal, that gays shouldn’t marry, etc - yet have a vote on any of those issues today and it would be a landslide. Those (conservative) people were clearly wrong.

Even if there is a "Landslide" doesn't mean your right. Some things will always be wrong for me personally I don't care what other people think.

I would be more happy if the politicians stayed in the background, hardly ever heard from. Central govt should learn from local govt.... less govt and less interference. How many of us knew anything about American politics or had more than a passing interest before Trump? And now it seems a daily diet of their political affairs. I admit that I am guilty of following what is going on there because Trumps buffoon antics are funny and make me laugh. He is destroying the cohesiveness of the country while America's enemies watch on.

It isn't that Trump is destroying the cohesiveness of the nation, he is just giving voice to concerns. Those concerns are in response to the salience of immigration.

Very interesting article Chris. While I like making money out of trading I stll have a social concience. The overwhelming concern I have is that neither Labour or National are doing or has done previously, what the Country urgently needs but instead looks the otherway and swims in progressively ever diminishing circles. I blame neoliberalism for effectively defanging the function of government which conveniently steps aside and allows unchecked corporate profiteering at the expense of our country. The end result being exploited communities left in utter poverty. How can I trade with those communities? Right now top of my concerns are housing speculation fuelled by the financial sector and its impact on housing which inturn is creating a poverty stricken renting underclass with no say in their basic need, affordable housing. The second concern is immigration, clearly too high even affecting our ability to offer safe haven to refugees due to housing shortages in the regions. Again property speculation underpinned by finance sector causing the big problem. We need a new business model.

To all those voters who might have voted National last time, but were concerned about the sale of houses to foreigners, I suggest before you tick blue again, that you double check exactly what their intentions are regarding that, should they regain power, and I would go so far as to insist they reveal if they would try to close the loophole that allowed Labour to introduce what ban they could.

Good point, I notice MP Tim Macindoe released a statement before Christmas regarding clarifying ACC cover for Firefighters exposed to toxic agents. The press release mentioned National was doing the work to prepare while it is in opposition. It only made me ask why National was waiting to do something like that now instead of when it was actually in government for 3 whole terms? Looking at how dysfunctional ACC became once National's minister for idiocy (Nick Smith) got his hands on the portfolio I have zero trust in National being able to run a bath, let alone the Country for the benefit of ALL its citizens.

Do-Nothing Cindy must GO !

Toothy smiles and magazine cover appearances do not a PM make

We need to rid ourselves of this hopelessly uncoordinated and dysfunctional herd of cats masquerading as a Government , as soon as possible .

This do-nothing , rabble rousing , street-protesting bunch of leftist academics has succeeded in damaging our economic well-being , failed terribly in allowing our infrastructure deficit to reach crisis proportions , has used business and farmers as its punch -bag ...............and in so doing bitten the very hand that feeds it.

We cannot afford to have them in office one day longer than is legally possible


What would you like to say about the pony tail pulling lens seeking leader of the national party who sealed the mine holding the Pike 29 bodies and ruined countless Chch property owners with dud earthquake settlements and repairs?

Ah yes, the old 'applying any degree scrutiny to the current governing party (even holding them to their own promises and policies) means you must somehow excuse the actions of politicians and PMs that haven't been MPs for years' logic.

Thank god this is some universal get out of jail free card or else it might come across as tedious whataboutism.

It's a bit late for Labour as an old bus driver commented a couple of days ago "this country has been changed forever". U.K, Europe, US is all about identity. Jacinda in her UN speech quotes Robert Sapolsky. She thinks we can embrace an identity based on a "common humanity" and "we only have to choose; we only have to choose". When NZrs see foreigners buying real estate (advertising beautiful places in Hong Kong) they see humanity as competition (and rightly so).
And then there is the social engineering. Maori plus Migrants ("lovely te reo" + New Zealand Wars") The Europeans who built this country (agriculturalists replacing hunter-gatherers) are being discredited to create a false history. On the NZ History Show Maori killed off the moa [subsequently] kaitiakitanga increased. In the comments "You can see why Maori hate Pakeha".

The rise of misinformation on the internet really concerns me, particularly when related to democratic elections. YouTube and Facebook have no obligation to society to be truthful and bipartisan. They make their money from arousing and triggering click bait, not factual news, and it is addictive in a way that traditional media isn't. Social media wants to keep you engaged for as long as possible, by any means, so sends you increasingly arousing information, confirming any biases you may have. And doesn't filter out false information.

I worry especially about the impact of this misinformation on people who might have trust in social media, having grown up trusting newspapers of old. I see my relatives and friends sharing fake news, convinced that the conspiracies and outrageous claims are true, they act fast in sharing this misinformation because of the emotion it triggers. People who recognize the lies are then triggered in a different way, and spread the false message further by commenting an argument.

It is really scary how people can be manipulated by media, and spread lies on behalf of unknown people. It feels reminiscent of WWII propaganda. People need to recognize when they are being triggered by click-bait, and learn how to fact check without looking for confirmation bias. Also, don't rely on FB and YouTube for political information and news, they put us into an echo-chamber of our own views.

Amene. The yoof-quake failed to appear in 2017, and is more fragmented now because it has become "#TooWoke".