Our current National government operates in two different modes. There’s their real, substantive agenda – asset sales, increased exploitation of the environment, slashing the public service (sacking teachers, gutting ACC) etc – most of which is unpopular with the majority of voters. So to distract the electorate they have their gimmick based agenda: cracking down on boat people when we don’t have any boat people, Paula Bennett announcing that she was going to do ‘something’ about child abuse, Key’s latest stunt in which he’s vowed to do ‘something’ to get 20,000 people off the unemployment benefit. (Still no word on when these clowns are going to do ‘something’ about our balance of trade deficit or net external debt.)
The epitome of the gimmick based agenda was Judith Collins’ car crushing scheme: a policy designed solely around the PR possibilities of a Cabinet Minister compacting some teenagers’ car in front of a media scrum. This finally happened a couple of days ago and the TV news shows duly lead with new police Minister Anne Tolley dancing around on top of the flattened wreck.
But my totally unscientific impression, gleaned from talking to non-politics junkies and eavesdropping on strangers on the bus is that this PR gimmick misfired. For most people a car is the most valuable or second-most valuable thing that they own. They can understand confiscating cars and auctioning them – but for the government to destroy them and then have a senior Minister dance around on top of them in heels in the midst of our current age of austerity doesn’t seem to sit well with Joe and Sally public.
Which makes me wonder how long National can keep selling their gimmick, distraction based agenda. Surely you can only announce plans to reform the welfare system or fight child abuse so many times before the public notice that you’re not actually doing anything, other than making a lot of noise while quietly implementing policies they really dislike.