3 years ago, a National minister dancing on a flattened boyracer car would have been a PR coup. And certainly that’s how National’s spin doctors expected it to play out last week. But times have changed. Now, it’s being criticised as an unseemly act and a waste of money through-out the media. These tipping points creep up on governments. Strengths suddenly become weaknesses.
National’s public agenda (as opposed to the substantive agenda like privatisation, which it prefers not to talk about) has always been gimmick-based – ‘closing the gap with Australia’, ‘jobs summit’, ‘cycleway’ etc etc right up to this latest ’10, sorry 14, results’ – but gimmicks only work as long as they’re not seen as gimmicks. When the first round in the media becomes ‘National tries another distraction’ and ‘minister in new gimmick’. Then they’re stuffed.
And that’s what is happening right now. The public and the media are no being taken in by the big distraction any more, we’re immediately pulling back the curtain to reveal the man pulling the levers behind.
It’s about now that National might be wishing that it had developed a positive, popular programme of actual policies – rather than getting elected with a small target strategy, then practising the art of distraction while pushing through asset sales and other policies that are deeply unpopular. Or maybe not. They got their two terms. They will get their 6 years to plunder the public wealth. And they must know they never would have gotten it if they had put their substantive policies front and centre, rather than leading with gimmicks.