25 Apr 2008
The Pretender's new clothes
Over recent months the media has been fascinated by the emergence of the latest pretender to leadership of the National Party. Their fascination has spilled over to the polls in what has been recognised by researchers in the USA as the bias effect.
The research showed that the repetition of poorly researched and quickly read news articles were more readily assimilated than articles that required the reader to critically assess the information put in front of them. Thus the 8 second sound bite of the TV and the "short snappy" head and sub head of the newspaper distorted the information available and resulted in a mis-reading of the actuality being reported.
So it has been with the representation of the leadership and policies of the National Party. Since the unseating of Don Brash the spin doctors have been dressing John Key in clothes borrowed from past successful Labour campaigns.
The one that generated the initial media fascination with Key was the visit to "struggle" street and the "adoption" of a young Polynesian girl as an introduction to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Here the National Party was borrowing the cloak of Norm Kirk whose working class credentials were considerably more credible than any pretended by the National Party leadership.
When Norm Kirk walked onto the Treaty Grounds with the young Maori boy he did it from instinct, from his own sense of right and acknowledgment of the connection between himself and the people. For the National Party the occasion had to be manufactured with Key positioning himself as "champion of those on struggle street" and then, amid a flurry of press releases and spin, taking the daughter of a street resident to Waitangi to emulate the iconography of Kirk's instinctive and natural action. The media loved it because the journalists covering the "media event" lacked the historical memory that would have triggered warning lights in the eyes of experienced reporters.
If one compares the two situations one can see the difference in style, in attitude, in relationship and understanding of occasion between Kirk, the working class man of the people, and Key, the pretender.
As the posed photo-opportunity on the bridge to Waitangi, the carefully chosen T-shirt with its "culturally sensitive" icon and the deliberately "casual" clothing all demonstrate the influence of the Public Relations / Advertising agency spin doctor on the situation.
Soon after the frenzy of Waitangi Key was filmed for a TV interview springing up the steps of Parliament Buildings in emulation of the Bob Harvey inspired 1969 campaign film of Norm Kirk presenting himself as the leader of the Labour Party.
For anyone with a long political memory the spin doctoring was obvious. Here was Key and his political dressers raiding the wardrobe to clothe their man and, by association, give him the clothes that would "soften" the image of the money-man, the financial mover and shaker who had been in the employ of the speculators who had profited during the "free-market" buccaneering days of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson.
The political cynicism and crass manipulation of the National Party spin doctors was evident and to become more and more obvious as the campaign to make their leader and their policies appear palatable evolved.
The pretender was to pick and choose his new clothes as the occasion suited.... at some point the clothes would prove not to be a good fit and the insincerity of the campaign would be revealed.