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Out of her depth

Written By: - Date published: 11:03 am, March 20th, 2009 - 41 comments
Categories: national/act government, spin - Tags: , , , , , , ,

bennett-westiePaula Bennett’s performance on Morning Report today didn’t just bring home how completely out of her depth she is as a Minister, it also exposed the limits of National’s strategy of government-by-PR.

If you haven’t heard the interview yet, download it now. You won’t be disappointed.

What’s clearly happened here is Bennett was sent into this interview by National’s PR team armed with little more than the usual attack lines designed to frame Labour as grubby, corrupt and irrelevant. There’s no substance, because they know there’s nothing there. It’s just a quick, cheap, hit-and-run attack.

I mean, have a listen and just count how many times she says “petty politicking”, “taxpayer funded” and “desperately trying to find relevance”. If it sounds like she’s just reading these lines out from a sheet in front of her, it’s because chances are she probably was.

But the problem with this kind of PR, as we saw from Nick Smith with ACC last week, is that as soon as the spin is challenged with some substance the whole thing falls apart, sometimes spectacularly. Phil Goff made an absolute meal out of Bennett, and she was left sounding nasty, shrill and hollow live on public radio.

The irony, of course, is that Bennett isn’t just a participant in National’s game of government-by-PR, she’s a living, breathing example of it. After all, why else has this inexperienced, untested newbie been put in charge of the government’s largest ministry but for the fact her down-to-earth Westie image provides a centrist facade for National’s neoliberal project?

With any luck this morning’s fiasco will cause John Key to rethink not just his confidence in Bennett, but the continuing usefulness of the hit-and-run PR model National has been running for the last four years.

41 comments on “Out of her depth ”

  1. r0b 1

    If you haven’t heard the interview yet, download it now. You won’t be disappointed.

    But Tane, I was disappointed. Very very disappointed. That was a pathetic display of hackery. These people are our government? I am disappointed for New Zealand.

  2. Kaplan 2

    I think out of her depth is an understatement.
    I especially enjoyed Geoff making the point about just how ironic Paula’s comments are and her response illustrating that his point went well over her head.
    You can hear the exasperation in his voice as he sums up.
    Priceless.

  3. the sprout 3

    Bennett was installed in DWI for precisely the same reasons as Christine Rankin.

    A person completely out of their depth who’s consequently highly maleable National’s interests in gutting the service.

    Someone a bit more on to it would be much harder to convince to do National’s slashing because they’d understand just how monumentally unwise it’d be, and how disasterous it’d be for their long term career consequences (witness Rankin’s subsequent career).

    In short, someone more capable would be in a position to resist.

  4. DeeDub 4

    I know someone who dated Bennett for a while not too long ago. He assures me she is none-too-bright and extremely politically naive.

    This interview would tend to reinforce that.

    What a nompty.

  5. Naughty Labour

    Don’t they know that only National is allowed to use public funds for petty politicing ; )

    Seriously though, Paula is out of her depth. She was chosen for PR reasons not for ability and the public service must be scratching its collective head. The sprout is right that under her control it is likely that social security will deteriorate and perhaps this is deliberate.

    I think we should allow her as many opportunities to speak publicly as follows! I predict that Waitakere will return to red at the next election.

  6. gingercrush 6

    I think you make too many assumptions. You assume listeners would support your position on how you saw Bennett’s performance. Now since many voters are very partisan, this performance is unlikely to change that. For swinging voters. I don;t think anyone bases their opinions on one interview. Though overtime, such things do add up and may mean someone switches from previously voting National to going to Labour or another party.

    You also assume that isn’t performing well. I think you’re right to say she doesn’t sound the best on radio and its certainly something she needs to improve. But I don’t think Pete Hodgson ever sounded well being interviewed. Her minister performance so far has been very good. King has tried to get some hits in the house but so far it hasn’t worked and to me she has a good ability in the house. While she hasn’t had a crisis really to sort through yet. I think her response to the incident with a woman wanting to sell a playstation to get debt down worked very well. And showed her in good steed. So I would have to disagree that she is out of her depth and that she isn’t performing well.

    • IrishBill 6.1

      Gc, you are wrong. Most swing voters don’t pay much attention to politics. In fact many of them will make their voting decision on no more than a couple of political stories or conversations. That’s why staying on message (and thus ensuring these disengaged people hear the same story every, rare, time they do engage) is so important in political campaigning.

      Personally, I think that sort of cynical PR approach is an anti-democratic way to do things and I think it increases the number of disengaged voters. I’d rather see people being re-engaged and knowing exactly what they are voting for but the incentives for such a move just aren’t there.

    • the sprout 6.2

      indeed gc, you would have to disagree

      • gingercrush 6.2.1

        Indeed. Could probably post a bit less since I usually disagree and its probably grating people.

  7. ghostwhowalks 7

    I noticed too that the previous weeks fawning and non researched piece in the WSJ about John Key , they have changed some items of his childhood story( no surprise).
    Instead of the widowed mother who was supported by the state with the widows benefit and a state house we have Keys mother as a ‘battler who raised her young family by working at blue collar jobs’

    This of course fits the the new line they they pulled themselves up solely by their own bootstraps, and must have been in the background info fed by Keys media minder during the interview ( probably Paula Oliver). Not for the US media any hint that Ruth Key was a ‘welfare queen’

    • Snail 7.1

      GWW,

      the latter point vg!

      (In the US) political junkies even so much as subliminally attuned to human deviousness, all likely or possible interps must be eliminated..

      thankfully such things do not inhabit the kiwi public mind… yet.

  8. r0b 8

    Oh and the most dangerous part of all this has been lost in the haze of Bennett’s incompetence. Banning Labour from attending regional job conferences? WTF? I mean – seriously? These conferences are supposed to be soliciting ideas to deal with a vitally important issue for our time, and the Government wants to use a flimsy pretext to BAN the major opposition party from attending and contributing?

    Had this happened with Labour as Government the howls of outrage and cries of “one party state”, “dictatorship”, “banana republic” and so on from the right – and from the press – would have been deafening.

  9. Jasper 9

    “oh look, it was certainly um… no look, I can’t say, I wasn’t there so I don’t know what was handed out. Most of the pamphlets were left behind”

    Gah. She must be stupid stupid stupid!!!!

    That was a dire interview. Bennett sounds like one nostril is blocked.
    Either that or she has grommets?

  10. out of bed 10

    Ironically the Lab party had to be dragged kicking and screaming to sign up for the home insulation scheme when negotiating with the Greens on the ETS

    • George Darroch 10.1

      Indeed they did. Why, I have no idea. Perhaps too many years with Dunne and Winston?

    • Pascal's bookie 10.2

      oob when other parties steal your ideas, it means you’re winning.

      Best to let them think they thought of it, (that way they own it, and are less likely to turn back), and move on to the next issue. Hopefully someone will steal that too 😉

    • Snail 10.3

      genuine question oob,

      true, false or just a put on..?

  11. Redbaiter 11

    You only hate this woman for one reason.

    You regard her as a apostate.

    A person of working class origins who expounds what you believe to be Tory philosophy.

    You also hate her because she is a reminder to you of how you’re losing your traditional political ground.

    Instead of attacking Paula, you should think about why working people are turning their backs on the Labour Party.

    I’ll tell you why I think its happening.

    The Progressives.

    Get rid of these socially destructive doctrinal arseholes and you might get the real people back.

    • Hi Redbaiter, I note your comment about getting the ‘real’ people back, I wonder, would you possibly be able to provide me with a breakdown for each party on their proportion of real and fake supporters?

  12. Chris S 12

    RB: You mean the party or the ideology?

  13. Ianmac 13

    I don’t think anyone “hates” Paula. It is just that in order to be a Minister we expect that there intent is clear and fair and credible, even if we disaggree. It is possible that she was put up to complain about Labour but without conviction. It is probable that she will smooth out the rough edges and her persona as a forthright women in politics will shine towards the next election. Just a bit of Media training will happen.

    • Tigger 13.1

      Nicely put. I actually like Bennett in many ways – her heart is definitely in the right place from what I’ve heard (and having also heard Judith Collins talks about Paula behind her back I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Bennett – believe me the other Nat women are looking to stab Bennett in the back).

      But this sort of thing just won’t do Paula.

      And if we’re making silly photoshops of people can we start with Nick Smith please – I mean, this radio interview is nothing compared to Smith’s behaviour at Select Committee.

      • Tane 13.1.1

        This wasn’t a photoshop. Sprout’s is.

        • Tigger 13.1.1.1

          Yes, sorry should have made it clear I was referring to the pic in the other thread.

          Don’t get me wrong, I love a good photoshop…I just wanted to put another boot into Nick Smith. 🙂

  14. Redbaiter 14

    “You mean the party or the ideology?”

    I mean the Party and the ideology that currently dominates. Labour used to be the working man’s party.

    No longer.

    It is now dominated by ivory tower academics out of touch with the values and ambitions of the working class.

    Progressive ideology is not traditional Labour Party ideology. Its radically different in its focus on social engineering and pseudo liberalism.

    Labour needs to return to its working class roots.

    Its no good blaming Paula Bennet, when the problem lies with Labour’s abandonment of its traditional values and its supplication to the socially destructive values of the Progressives.

    Jezuzz.

    My family are all Roman Catholic working class, but they regard Progressive ideology like the plague. They’ve turned from Labour because it no longer reflects their values.

    Get rid of the academic fuckwits and return to your roots. A more useful exercise than picking so unfairly on Paula Bennet.

    • Pascal's bookie 14.1

      Yeah nobody hates social engineering like the Catholic Church hates social engineering.

      Which bits of the stuff the Church doesn’t like will the Nats roll back?
      None of it, that’s which bits.

    • Snail 14.2

      than picking so unfairly on Paula Bennet.

      You never heard of constructive criticism?

      I don’t know the woman at all, but I heard the interview. And I’d say clear as.. if you were to ask her what she thought she rated through it she’d be forthright enough to concede a hashed job..

      It has been a bad week for those folks and matters over which you have pontificated in the past.. better to bury it and go enjoy your weekend.. yep, my constructive criticism.

  15. Tom Semmens 15

    If one is to believe the right wing hacks in the media, it took nine years for labour to be arrogant and out of touch. Listening to the dismissive high handedness of Paula Bennet, who sounded like she felt threatened by democracy, it seems like it has taken 90 days for it to happen to National.

  16. insider 16

    as a rightie with a strong interest in media I thought Bennet was hopeless. Not necessarily her fault. I think Tane got it dead right with her only having three lines. SHe should never have been put on live with such a thin argument, and instead should have stuck to prerecorded soundbites.

    But a more able/experienced person may have been able to divert or broaden the debate and discuss principle issues not just recite lines.

    Also agree on the comment re banning Labour – I mean National should just suck it up and be above it all – it’s been working for them up till now.

    So my blame mainly falls on the press people who allowed her to appear without a better briefing on wider principles, and on the party for suggesting a Labour ban.

    Can’t remember what Goff said but it was a good opportunitiy to show NAtional as a bunch of cry babies and scaredy cats who don;t want to hear alternatives.

    • Tane 16.1

      insider, I agree on that. A politician of the competence and experience of Bill English could probably have turned that situation around. Allowing her to go head-to-head against Goff was also a major mistake.

  17. Deepred 17

    With mates like Ms Bennett, who needs enemies?

  18. Kevin Welsh 18

    What is this cloth-eared bint doing running a Ministry?

    Phil Goff made her sound like a twat and didn’t even need to project the Labour message to do so. I think he hit the nail right on the head when he said “listeners will draw their own conclusions” on the interview.

    A very subtle way to say “sweetheart, you’re out of your depth”.

  19. Evidence-Based Practice 19

    I have now heard several interviews with Paula Bennett and heard her speak at various meetings. There was a long interview with her a few weeks ago about her ministerial responsibilities in her disability portfolio on the One in Five Radio NZ programme http://www.radionz.co.nz. It was amazing how little she managed to say – no understanding of the issues, no policies, no vision. Just fluff and lots of ‘I am the change’ type newage speak. Actually quite insulting to the listeners. Realising what a liability she is the Nats PR people have now given that portfolio to Assoc Min Tariana Turia.

    This power thing is all a joke to the new Government. They don’t seem to realise there are actual real people negatively affected by their decisions and behaviour.

    Good on TheStandard for being one of the few media outlets to put the spotlight on.

  20. CMR 20

    I agree Ms Bennett is not smart, but I suggest that were she a Labour Cabinet Minister she’d not be “out of her depth” but comfortably retarded as Labour requires!

  21. deemac 21

    sadly Paula’s godawful performance is unlikely to give Key second thoughts on this tactic – there is no Plan B. Nicky Kaye was similar on Back Benches recently – just shout others down and repeat the same stock phrases whatever you are asked. The keen politicos may cringe but most people just remember the soundbites.

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