Why do new leaders get honeymoons? When you think about it, there’s no objective reason why a leader should get an easy run at first, not be asked the hard questions, be served lavish praise. So why does it happen?
Well, I asked around a few people who’d been there and done that, and the only credible answer I got was that it’s because the press gallery and the new leader are building relationships. It works like this: gallery journos need access, that means they have to get the new leader and his ministers to trust them, and that means no critical articles. To protect their ability to gain information for writing stories, the media have to only write nice stories. The new government has the power to shut them out, so they’ve got to protect their own arses. The new leaders are also building relationships. Flush with victory they are in an open, welcoming mood and with the media being so nice to them, they are minded to be even more open and friendly toward them. When you’re getting to be friends with people, and when your job prospects depend on good relations with them, it’s easy to have a honeymoon.
It’s not until one of the half-dozen people who essentially control our political discourse starts writing critical articles and others follow them that the honeymoon ends. That never really happened to Key during his time in opposition. Sure the political editors all got in their pro forma critical pieces but all were afraid of getting offside with someone they were certain would soon be PM. Moreover, some of them have a career change to consider. Watch over the next few weeks for at least one, possibly more, of the top political journos to join Key’s office.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – ‘this sucks, the people meant to hold our politicians to account are too busy trying to keep their jobs or get new ones’. Yeah, it does suck but there’s no changing the lay of the land. Instead, the Left, and Labour in particular, needs to do a much better job working with the media than they have done.
There is a tendency for the Left to view the media as an enemy to be fought, which is a big mistake. While the old media still control how the public perceives politics, Labour needs to work with them. In particular, they need to turn away from this paralysing ‘risk avoidance’ model and, instead, work on building personal relationships with the media.
The journos are just people, treat them with distrust and they’ll treat you badly back; be friendly and they’ll be nice back. And it’s not hard – they’re, most of them, genuinely nice people in person – just make friends. That’s something smiling John and National know all too well. It’s something Labour needs to learn, and quick.