When John Key and Pita Sharples were jostled by two Maori men opposed to the National-Maori Party alliance, the thing that stuck in my mind was Key’s smile. Like Donald Trump’s hair, it was back in place immediately, covering whatever lies underneath.
That smile, and the intensive, expensive, extensive image management it represents, are the most powerful force in New Zealand politics today. Of course it is an image fundamentally divorced from reality – an image of a government that cares about the ‘underclass’ when, in fact it has risen taxes on the poor and taken away their work rights; an image of a government that cares about the environment when it has actually cancelled the ETS, is holding a select committee to question whether climate change is real and is moving to block environmentalists opposing development under the RMA; an image of a government tackling the recession when it has done nothing of any significance, just a slight reshuffling of spending that Labour had budgeted before the recession; an image of a conservative party that has learnt to not be anti-Maori when Maori are those who suffer most from the Fire at Will law, the low and middle income tax hikes, the RMA reforms, the abuses of human rights in its law reforms; and an image of a government that is bringing a ‘new age of accountabilty’ but has abused Urgency, cancelled Question Time, and voted for laws that violate human rights.
You’ve got to respect a PR operation that can turn a broken arm into a bigger story than the removal of the work rights of a hundred thousand New Zealanders. You’ve got to acknowledge the skill of a PR operation that can entrall the media, and the people, so completely and translate that into such impressive poll results (Roy Morgan: 48%, TV3: 60%).
Of course, we’ve seen huge popularity evaporate before (Bush once polled at 90%). I remain fundamentally convinced that governing is about more than smiles; ultimately, image can’t work forever. But, by God, it’s working now.
For the Left, well, we can at least be glad the next election isn’t tomorrow. 🙂
We’ve got nearly three years. Three years that will expose the hollowness of Key and National, and their inability to deal with the crises we face. And three years in which the Left, in particular Labour, needs to build a compelling narrative, one of positive, real change.