New year, new you! The perennial trope applies to politicians too and, let’s face it, as the political year wears on, the outlook usually only tends to be bleaker than it was the day before.
When we consider the Government’s dumpster clear-out of damaging Karel Sroubek information that took place during the dying hours of the last working day of 2018, it’s no wonder all who return strive for a little airbrushed reset to conceal the blemishes.
Sheesh, that was a low point that Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway will be hoping we’ve all forgotten (but here’s your reminder).
Problems arise though, when the photoshopping – both metaphorical and literal – is carried out with a bit too much gusto.
Just ask Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who found himself the butt of ridicule when his staff botched an unnecessary Photoshop job, by pasting hip new sneakers over his tired old kicks and mistakenly giving the embattled leader two left feet in the process. The gaffe served to highlight the level of detail a leader’s army of press secretaries will go to, to control their image.
New Zealand’s politicians are no different in that regard.
Whether it’s National leader Simon Bridges guzzling a beer in a floral shirt, or Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern signing on for a round of soft media in the gossip mags, none of these images tell us anything worth knowing about them. All are designed to give the illusion that they do.
Recent debate in the United States over the ‘‘likeability test’’ – as it applied to Hillary Clinton, and now presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren – would suggest this is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s not.
Sadly, in the case of women, it’s more closely aligned to the subject’s looks. But as it applies to male political leaders, it could perhaps be more accurately described as the ‘‘beer test’’, as in ‘‘he seems like a good guy to have a beer with’’.
But that only gets a politician so far and this is the year where the rubber hits the road for the leaders of both major parties.
The Government’s stalled as long as it can with sundry working groups. The trouble with appointing experts to these things is that they’re incredibly earnest in their responsibilities to come up with solutions. Solutions which cost money, of which the Government has plenty but still not enough to fulfil the promises it’s made.
Health, mental health, education reform, justice reform, public service pay, climate change and tax issues are all crying out for bold decisions and tankers of cash.
For the Opposition, getting through the inevitable return of Jami-Lee Ross unscathed, and avoiding a significant drop in the polls, will be what decides Bridges’ leadership.
But hammering the Government on targeted soft spots will likely yield results. The Government is almost damned either way on a capital gains tax and if meaningful mental health solutions aren’t factored into the Budget, it will face a huge crisis of confidence.
And as the public learns more of planned education reforms – unavoidably controversial – National should only increase its arsenal.
So enjoy the political calm while it lasts. This year promises to bring more than a few blemishes that no amount of filters can hide.
This is the year where the rubber hits the road for the leaders of both major parties.