09 Nov
2011

The New Zealand electoral referendum: we analyse the values and narratives, and find the Conservatives storming ahead

New Zealand’s referendum on voting “reform” this month poses a major threat to anybody who cares about New Zealand’s democracy. Here at the Green Words Workshop we’re concerned that the progressive side is losing ground to a more emotionally and psychologically intelligent right wing. And we’ve seen this happen before. Like in Britain’s disastrously-run and heavily-defeated referendum in May , the question is essentially between a more democratic inclusive voting system (in this case “Mixed Member Proportional”) and the backward 19th century First Past the Post.

There are a number of extremely worrying signs – many of which we watched with horror in the UK referendum – that MMP’s historical lead in the polls could be reversed, with disastrous consequences that would include the decimation of the Green Party in New Zealand, the marginalisation of Maori voices, and a return to minority conservative rule.

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01 Nov
2011

“Green Growth”. Why we need to define it, own it and reframe it

One of the most controversial words in green & progressive politics is “growth”. Conversely “growth” is totally uncontroversial in mainstream economics. The need for growth is probably the single foundational principle upon which the global economy is built. Nothing is more important. The US Federal Reserve’s repeated attempts to “re-start” economic growth are at the centre of the narrative about the current economic “crisis”. In fact the crisis itself can be centrally defined as a crisis of lack of growth.

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31 Oct
2011

The Values We Live By: a new reader-friendly version of George Lakoff’s morality systems

In his book Moral Politics, Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff sets out the two opposing value systems that he believes are predominant in Western society: Strict Father and Nurturant Parent. As part of my mission to make Lakoff more accessible I have drafted an “easy language” version of what he calls the Moral Metaphors and the Categories of Moral Action. I am also substituting “Nurturing” for Nurturant Parent and “Authoritarian” for Strict Father, as we’ve been doing elsewhere on this blog. I believe the new versions below are powerful everyday expressions of the moralities the world lives by.

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23 Jul
2011

More Weasel Words Misunderstood: Foreign “Investment”

I found myself having drinks and dinner the other night in Bolivia’s old capital city with an Italian man whose work is, like mine, in communications. Except that he works for the World Bank. It’s funny who you end up meeting while travelling.

With my friend adjudicating we ended up arguing about the idea of “foreign investment”, which I immediately claimed wasn’t investment at all. My friend felt that it was, and after all it’s tempting to believe that investment is whatever is called “investment”. But this single word highlights neatly the power and danger of frames. I wish to argue here that “investment” is a disputed concept to the extent of being fundamentally misleading; which seems especially critical when we’re talking about such a huge feature of the global economy.

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27 Apr
2011

The No campaign is appealing to deep principles of natural justice. The Yes side list AV’s interesting features

For over half a decade now my Green communications colleagues and I have had the mantra “benefits not features” to steer us away from becoming too policy wonkish in how we communicate our positions. An example from the commercial world would be “this car has seatbelts with pretensioners and energy management” (features). Translation “it’s really safe” (benefit). A political example would be “our party is seeking to bring CO2 emissions down by 75% by the year 2050” (feature). Translation: “we’ll make sure you’re not going to die from catastrophic climate change” (benefit).

The Yes to Fairer Votes campaign however, has fallen into the trap of expressing the features that our electoral system would have under the Alternative Vote.

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02 Apr
2011

“Make it 50” will come back to haunt the Yes to AV campaign

How do you make a slogan? It might surprise you the key rule of slogans is the public need to already like your slogan even before they’ve heard it.
Cognitively-speaking, you need to be activating an area of your audience member’s brain that is already associated with good and positive things in their mind, and then associate yourself with that.

Unfortunately, that cannot be said for “Make it 50”, the cryptic slogan unveiled today by Yes to Fairer Votes.

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29 Mar
2011

AV is …[blank]… The Yes campaign are still missing the answer to “What is AV?”

“What is AV?” is the essential question that the official Yes to Fairer Votes campaign is not yet answering for me, and, it seems, the British public at large.

I don’t mean an explanation of how AV works. I mean the very simplest association in people’s minds of “What is AV?”.
And I don’t even mean just for the 16% of people who have never heard of it [YouGov, 9-10 Mar] or even the 37% of people who have heard of it but aren’t sure how it works.

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25 Mar
2011

“Yes to AV” Postcards needs to be just one stream in a river of grassroots action

This post gives you the thinking behind our new Yes! Postcards site for the AV referendum. It is a longer version of an original post on Liberal Conspiracy.

When the No2AV campaign chose to lie last month about the costs of the coming referendum, Yes campaigners found there was no real arbiter of truth in British politics. Sunny Hundal’s complaint was batted back and forth between Advertising Standards and the Electoral Commission. Yes to Fairer Vote’s campaign to petition the authorities fell on deaf ears. It turns out referenda are somewhat loosely regulated, and the No campaign wasted no time in taking advantage of that.

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23 Feb
2011

NO campaign leaving Yes to AV in the dust

I support the Yes to AV campaign for British electoral reform. My colleague here on the Green Words Workshop, Rupert Read, does too (and he’s written a couple of excellent recent pieces supporting AV here and here).

Unfortunately I’m concerned that the No campaign is leaving the Yes camp far behind, in terms of their framing, emotional appeal and general communication. The Yes camp just don’t know how to do cognitively-informed communication. The No side clearly do.
Martin Kettle rightly identifies the British people’s annoyance with politics in his Guardian piece last week “Public hostility to politics will deliver a yes to AV”.

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