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John Bishop's Communications Line - 15 Sept 2006

John Bishop's Communications Line
Issue Number 36 of 15 September 2006

Rash Brash and the Clash

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
An if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

Should I stay or should I go now

The chorus of the anarchic 80s punk band, the Clash’s most popular song seems apposite in the current political circumstances as Don announces he will stay, as if the decision were his alone. “The caucus is very comfortable with my leadership”, he said in Auckland this morning.

He would do well to remember that any dalliance he might have indulged in was his choice, but the public and his party will decide what attitude they choose to take to him.

His self indulgent behaviour is also very damaging to the party at the very time when National seems to have Labour on the ropes. His colleagues would be entitled to be very cross and grumpy at him for raising the matter in a way that allowed the otherwise quiescent press gallery to report it.

Did Labour bring this story out? Not really. Despite the taunting across the floor of the House, the idea that Labour is to behind this depends on establishing a connection between them and Brian Connell the National MP who brought up the matter in caucus.

“At that point it came into the open”, argue the press gallery journalists like Bernard Hickey on TVNZ’s Breakfast earlier this week. Insiders say they had known about the affair for months, but hadn’t reported it because it was a private matter. Jim Tully of the Canterbury University School of Political Science and Communication thought that was a poor excuse not to even try, and said so publicly.

When events in the private lives of public figures affect the performance of those public figures the line between what is private and what is legitimately in the public domain is crossed.

The whole business of having an affair, with its attendant secrecy, angst and guilt, and commitment to making time for the current “significant other” inevitably weakens the focus on one’s main job. That’s why I think Dr Brash’s activities (if indeed he was having an affair) are qualitatively different from those of Bill Clinton. The nature of the sex makes a difference. An affair takes time. Bill and Monica behind the curtains were quick. No real diversion of attention from the leadership job.

That was one factor that helped Bill get away with it. The public may not be so forgiving or understanding about Don, and neither may his colleagues. They are now facing the choice: are we better with him and risk losing our current momentum while this matter is in the public arena; or are we better to stop, change leaders and then try to move ahead again. There’s no obviously right or wrong answer, and judgments are still evolving on the matter.

How the public reacts may be decisive for National MPs. My judgment (for what it is worth) is that the public will see this as a foolish act by an aging man whom they will increasingly come to despise for having put his interests above those of his role and his duty to the party. Supporters will feel let down, because he is squandering their best position since Orewa One. That’ll make it very hard to forgive and forget.

Public Morality

One of the most dangerous discourses that any commentator can embark upon is to try and set down some precepts about public morality, but it is also one of the most important and interesting.

Chatting to a leading National MP earlier in the week, we agreed that National had lost the public when it accused David Benson-Pope of being a pervert, but the party’s call to “pay the money back”had clearly captured public support, and that the claim Labour was “corrupt” was also resonating. What the public finds acceptable in the behaviour of its public figures is a moving line, and just how to detect and determine that is not a precise science.

One question that will be occupying the minds of both National and Labour MPs this weekend is whether issues of personal morality will be raised again. It would be tempting for someone to dish dirt on a leading Labour figure. Brash has been urging his team not to do so. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Even if only half of the rumours circulating around Parliament are only half true, and even if only some of them become public, our democracy is in for a rough time.

Empathizing by Helen Clark

One hesitates, as just someone in the stand, to voice an opinion, but certainly I felt someone should have been sent off”, Helen Clark told NewsTalkZB after the McCaw-Tuqiri spear tackle incident. It’s a fine example of empathising– associating oneself with the feelings and attitudes of another group. It’s a valuable political technique, and she is good at it.

I recall Mrs Thatcher after the third of series of rail disasters had killed and injured yet more people offering a quick sound bite in the street outside Number 10 Downing Street to a gaggle of assembled media. She said…“My feelings were the same as everyone else’s - oh no not again.”

She was associating herself with ordinary people, showing that she had feelings, and distancing herself from responsibility for the tragedy. Ordinary people weren’t responsible, and she was just “ordinary people” she couldn’t possibly be responsible, now could she?

Not bad work in the space of twelve words – a nice grabby sound bite of perhaps four to five seconds. And just to show that it was deliberate, the documentary in which this sequence appeared showed her being approached by a young ITN reporter, who introduced herself and said she’d like Mrs T’s comment. Mrs Thatcher replied “oh you’d like me to say the same thing again would you?”. She then drew herself up, paused and her face wreathed in concern, voice dripping with anguish, said “I felt the same as everyone else, oh no not again.”

Clark’s comment uses the same technique of empathizing with others by saying what they feel. It makes her one of them, and therefore easier to support.

Media Relations; Conference talking point

Political reporters were trapped in “Planet Parliament” delegates at the Media Relations Conference in Wellington this week heard from several speakers. One of those who presented, Colin Espiner (political editor of the Press and older brother of the more televisually prominent Guyon) presented these comments and guidelines on how to deal with the media. See

PR Fem Domain

The typical PR practitioner is a 39 year old female with a degree in PR or communications working in Auckland or Wellington earning nearly $84 000 a year. That’s the picture that has emerged in the triennial (soon to be annual) PRINZ survey of the profession. See

Fiji another country another era.

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. And that’s also true in Fiji. For a serious but also a whimsical take on media and race in Fiji based on a recent holiday. See

Selling assets; good or bad or both

Even daring to suggest that there were benefits from selling assets in the past, let alone that there might be more benefits from selling assets in the future, can gets one howled down and driven out the company of decent people. Phil Barry was bold enough to try both lines in a presentation on privatization this week. See

Air New Zealand Cup fails to spark

The Air New Zealand Cup has turned out to be as boring as its worst critics feared. The games, as one commentator put it after the so called Battle of the Bridge failed to attract a crowd, any passion from the spectators or any talent from the players, are “a matter of who sucked less.”

Predictably, the three big name teams in each group won through and the second rank provinces just could not foot it. It confirms my view that if the problem is defined as the gap between the top teams and the second tier, this competition does not bridge it. In fact, it confirms the divide.

As one interested in problems of strategy – broadly defined as how to achieve goals deemed to be desirable – this competition doesn’t do much.

It doesn’t entertain the fans. It hasn’t provided much of an environment for new players to emerge. It’s not putting big gate takings into the coffers of smaller unions because the product is dull. It will produce a winner, but frankly who cares?. And finally it’ll leave the smaller provinces in the same position as when they started – well behind the big five (or six) despite all their best efforts to match the stronger provinces.

So here’s an idea, why not take the top five teams (Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago) and put them in an elite competition. They play home and away – and you can have a final if you want.

That puts the best players on display in big games and creates a competition of some standing. The other nine teams (perhaps plus one from the third division) play each other as they do now. Here’s the rub. The bottom ranked team in the top five competition would be automatically relegated at the end of the season in favour of the winner of the grade below.

That’ll sharpen the contest among the big guys, and also give the better teams in the next division – Taranaki, Southland, and North Harbour, something to play for.


Here is a message from the British American Tobacco Company

Do the tar numbers on cigarette packs tell me that I get from a cigarette?
Not necessarily. Tar numbers are produced by smoking machines so that cigarettes can be compared in a standard way. The amount of tar anyone actually gets will depend on the way they smoke, such are how hard and how frequently they puff. There is no such thing as a safe cigarette.

I found this advertisement in the Fiji Daily Post on 23 August 2006. Only in the third world would a company like BAT be able to publish such an advertisement, which arguably seeks to divert attention from the actual harm of smoking by making it the result of the way the smoker uses the product. Interesting eh?

In the Language mangler

On the road between Tauranga and Hamilton there was a sign from Toll at one of the controlled railway crossing … “Arm not working”. Underneath was another hand-lettered sign: “leg ok”.

Makes you wonder what could be added …. body tired, brain addled, foot sore, tongue tied, hands full….one could go on.

Still with signs, the handrails/balustrades on the Murphy St overbridge in Wellington have been painted recently and to warn pedestrians of the wet paint a sign was placed. It read…“Bewear wet paint”.

And then there was the restaurant in Courtenay Place that is offering “oven brolied chops”, presumably served with little cocktail umbrellas to keep the rain off the meat.

This may not be too PC but it struck me as just a tad ironic.

The Autism Society conference was meeting in the Quiet Room of a well known city hotel. It recalled to mind for me a notice at Canterbury University many years ago which announced that the Fabian Society (believers in the inevitability of gradualism) had an Action Committee, which was to meet on a certain day in the Reading Room.

Finally my northern observer found these gems in Old Hamilton Town.

'Orangs' and 'conutry-style ham' were among Pak & Save's specials. Not far away a shop called Mr Max was selling 'umbrellar's' .


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