Thursday, 9 January 2020

The Ardern Doctrine: Flim Flam and Fluffery

New Zealand's Year of Style Over Substance

In 2019, politics was dominated by spin doctors PR professionals and talented communicators while a ‘Year of Delivery’ failed to do just that

Bryce Edwards
The Guardian

[Editor's Note: there is an old cliche that runs something like this.  "If you want to influence people for the long run, you should under-promise and over-deliver."  If a political leader is successful in living up to that standard, over time integrity becomes a hall mark of an administration or a regime.  If, however, a leader fails, but instead over-promises and fails to deliver, the game is all over, Rover.  That is precisely the situation faced by our present government.  It now represents a deadly combination of fluff and dross.  Columnist Bryce Edwards sees the problem.  However, he believes our PM, Jacinda Ardern can redeem herself and turn the ship around.  We, to the contrary, suspect it is, indeed, "all over, Rover."  She risks being type-cast as a slightly older version of Greta Thunberg.]

Style isn’t always a bad thing in politics. There is a lot to be said for a politician who can channel emotions and values in a way that salves the soul or mobilises the masses. That’s the type of powerful leadership that makes history. Jacinda Ardern has been an exceptional world leader in this way. In 2019 the New Zealand PM responded to the 15 March terrorist attacks with an emotional and thoughtful response that was a lesson in leadership.

Understandably Ardern’s strong and appropriate statements made her the “politician of the year” in nearly every political pundit’s end-of-year summary. Similarly her pronouncement about the Muslim victims that “They are us” was clearly the quote of the year.

For all that, there are an enormous number of New Zealanders who need more than hugs from their prime minister. They voted for the parties of government because they wanted to see a promised “transformation” rather than business as usual.

It was supposed to be the government’s “Year of Delivery” – or so Ardern declared to the press at the beginning of 2019. It was a neat line, because 2018 had been the “year of the working group” in which little reform was carried out, on the promise that the experts would hand the government some major new policies to implement.

However as 2019 rolled on and key promises such as KiwiBuild’s 100,000 affordable houses, a capital gains tax and alleviating child poverty failed to eventuate, the “Year of Delivery” line became a stick with which to beat the government at every turn.

We have now learned that Ardern’s “Year of Delivery” promise was only ever a slick catchphrase dreamed up by a speechwriter, not Ardern herself.

Last week Beehive insiders told leading political journalists that the “Year of Delivery” promise was actually a spin-line produced on the fly by the PM’s top spin doctor to get his boss out of a tight situation when she needed something memorable to say at the start of 2019. The explanation from the Beehive was to convey that it’s not actually fair to hold the PM to account for a catchphrase that was never intended to be taken so seriously.

It is extraordinary that something presented as a solemn promise to the electorate is now being explained away as nothing more than a manufactured PR soundbite. But, in fact, this episode perfectly epitomises the year in politics – showing how PR has come to dominate.

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