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Big News: A Botched Campaign

Big News with Dave Crampton

A Botched Campaign

Its not often that a party that has its highest profile in 13 years turns out the lowest election result in its history. No, I’m not talking about National, but another party further to the right. The Christian Heritage Party polled just 1.3 percent, and all party votes for the party were wasted votes. Wairarapa candidate Merepeka Raukawa –Tait took the highest result of any CHP or Christian Coalition candidate ever, yet the vote was for Mrs Raukawa -Tait, not the CHP. Now Mrs Raukawa- Tait is calling for Graham Capill’s resignation as party leader in the wake of a critical report by her Australian campaign manager, Adam Owens.

The report said there was no campaign plan or election strategy. It also criticised Mr Capill's role and the party structure and called for an immediate inquiry into the party's finances. Mr Owens said he appreciated being asked to advise on the campaign, but was not so appreciative of the fact that any advice that was given was ignored.

The report says that there was no written budget for the campaign. Despite the Wairarapa campaign drawing the most electoral votes the party has received ever, the report says no financial support was received from headquarters. Party members in the Wairarapa, who stood in the rain operating sausage sizzles to raise funds, did not appreciate the money wasted on expensive hotel accomodation when the party leader visited, the report claimed.

Like the National party in the Mana electorate, the CHP allegedly made little effort to solicit the party vote, the vote that really counted. Billboards advertised the candidate when it was clear that no candidates would be elected. The report also said all radio advertising was scripted single handedly by Mr Capill, and some scripts were not compliant with the Broadcasting Act or electoral laws. Half the TV commercials made were found to be unlawful and could not be screened and Mr Owen’s view was that Mr Capill didn’t understand the requirements of the laws.

Mrs Raukawa-Tait considers that voters - even Christian voters - have an aversion to a Christian party – even an aversion to Mr Capill. If that is the case the CHP is political history with Mr Capill at the helm – but that will be up to the members to decide at a meeting this weekend. In order for the CHP to get into Parliament it needs a leader that comes across well in the media and to politicians, before even thinking about whether it will get a five percent vote.

Mr Capill has an aversion to the media. Mr Owens says that his handling of the media has “engendered a great deal of hostility”. Part of the job of a party leader is to work with the media, but Mr Capill has still to learn how to do that to his advantage and to the advantage of his party. Perhaps this is the reason why Michael Jones and Merepeka Raukawa-Tait fronted the brief television advertisements – they were seen to have the potential to do a better job to convince voters.

And they may well have convinced a few voters had the party not been the CHP. Had Mrs Raukawa-Tait stood for United Future – one of her options – she would have been high enough on the list to get a seat in Parliament.

Mr Capill has said success is not purely measured in terms of seats won – yet the reason the party was formed in 1989 was to gain parliamentary representation. They have not done so to date and questions have been asked as to the reason for its existence. In the recent past the CHP has had a single strategy of getting above 5% of the nationwide party vote – but most members would not know what that strategy was. Mr Capill said before the election, “it is clear the party has a core vote of at least 3%.” Well, not so clear actually, as that core vote was more than cut in half on July 27. The party got 2.4 percent at the 1999 election. Most Christian leaders - let alone those who aren’t Christians - do not support the CHP, something Mrs Raukawa-Tait realised on July 27.

Last year at a CHP conference Mr Capill said if voters wanted a new direction then they will need the courage of their convictions. They will have to vote for a party that is willing to have a very different emphasis – the emphasis on family life that has been missing for far too long. About 140,000 people voted for just that that, which is the reason United Future has eight seats in Parliament. The fact remains that voters apparently don’t want family values - or any values – represented in Parliament by members of an openly Christian party.

- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at davec@globe.net.nz

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