You’ve done your job as a spin doctor when journalists start repeating your spin sub-consciously.
The credit downgrade ‘issue’ is a great example. There was never any threat of a downgrade, as long as the tax cuts were dropped. The journalists all acted like there was a huge threat. They parroted the government’s line that the Budget had to avoid this non-existent threat at all costs. Then praised the government for seeing off the bogeyman.
Some even got so caught up that they said S & P had upgraded our credit because it took us off negative watch (which is just a warning that we might have been downgraded at some point in the future). Funny because no-one said we were downgraded when we went on to negative watch in in February. Going on to negative watch wasn’t a downgrade. Coming off it can’t be an upgrade.
Actually, this post is meant to be about another line. The ‘frontline’. You’re starting to see this line mindlessly repeated in the media too. ’70 jobs cut from IT at ACC to move resources to the frontline’. Good spin bypasses your targets’ critical faculties and that’s what this line is doing. No thinking person would take the line seriously because it implies that all an organisation needs are service deliverers and that people supporting that delivery are pointless but the media are acting as if that’s the case.
An analogy. The US army has combat squads. The ‘frontline’ of its ‘service delivery’. Known as the tip of the spear. For every member of a combat unit whose job is to actually fight the enemy there are more than ten soldiers in what Key would call ‘back office’ jobs. All modern armies are the same. Very few actual ‘war-fighters’ backed by a large support system. Now, an idiot might say ‘put more of those useless support people at the front’. Any sensible commander, though, knows its better to have, say, a 50-man vehicle maintenance crew then 50 more combat soldiers and unreliable vehicles. There’s far more value-added to combat units’ ability to fought by having an effect support system than having an army full of combat troops with no support system. The combat troops are the tip of the spear but that’s nothing without the shaft behind it.
Simply pouring all your resources into the frontline doesn’t always make sense. Its what armies do as an absolute last resort when they’ve already lost. In terms of the public service, what’s going to happen now when ACC’s IT systems go down? Are ‘frontline’ staff going to have to try to solve the problems themselves, inefficiently and ineffectively? Are they going to have to try to get in contractors who don’t know the system, while ‘frontline’ staff sit idle at their useless computers? It’s stupid to even talk of a frontline really. The service deliverers are part of an interdependent system. Each part is needed to provide the service effectively and efficiently.
The dumb thing is that we have been down this path before, We know where it ends. National gutted the public service last time it was on office too. Left us with a system that could barely do the basics like carry out an election.