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Labour Background Paper on Language

Labour Background Paper on Language

Labour has been criticised by National for emphasising spin over substance in a leaked discussion paper. However the paper, which gives insight into Labour's recent communications planning, was written partly as a response to spin used by National during the 2005 election campaign.

The document, "Language Matters: Setting agendas - taking charge of the language" has been distibuted to media and has become available on the internet. A copy obtained by Scoop is linked below.

The paper is concerned with using communications to set the terms and thus the tone and focus of public debate, and notes National's success in these areas leading up to the 2005 election - where phrases such as "Welfare dependency", "Parental choice", "Treaty grievance industry" and "Social engineering" were heavily used. The right, according to the paper, "often does this better than the left, not just in NZ but in many other countries".

National's Gerry Brownlee has said that the paper "does not talk about changing policies but about changing messages - in other words the spin".

The paper was prepared for May's Otago/Southland Regional conference by Clare Curran, director of Inzight Communications.

It cites the work of the US academic George Lakoff, UC Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive science, on conservative communication.

Although not a complete style guide (such as the famous Luntz memo on environmental communication written for the US Republican Party) the paper does make some specific recommendations. One in particular, the use of the term "investment" to combat National's phrasemaking on social and tax issues, appears to have been adopted by the Government in promoting the Budget.

The paper also recommends pushing the debate towards consideration of the future, and the establishment of independent think-tank in favour of "socially progressive values".

See... Language Matters (PDF, 1.5MB)


  • National - Labour admits it's losing policy debates
  • Scoop Link - UC Berkeley: George Lakoff tells how conservatives use language to dominate politics
  • Scoop Link - The Luntz memo (PDF)
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