An interesting contrast

Good to see the media are backpedalling on the Waitangi Pub crawl in London story and giving more balance such as the Police actually praising the event and its organisers.

In the latest story at Stuff, they have comments from both and . And if I was a lecturer in political communications, I would get my students to analyse this story. I think it is a good insight into how the way you say things can impact how you are perceived.

First what Goff said:

Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff said nobody minded people having a good time but vomiting and defecating in public didn’t do much for New Zealand’s reputation in Europe.

“I’ve no problem if they’re crazy enough to take their shirts off and do a haka in the middle of the snow in London in February, fine.

“But I know that when I was living in London and you saw people on the tube that were vomiting and urinating you took offence at that.”

People at home wouldn’t like it is a group of English people behaved similarly here, he said. 

“By all means go have a good time but when it comes to behaving offensively in a public place, it’s not on for people to be damaging our reputation by behaving in our way.”

Goff comes across as automatically accepting there was really bad behaviour, twice goes on about vomiting, defecating and urinating and says we wouldn’t like people doing it here. Overall comes over as a bit of a killjoy.

Prime Minister John Key said he was not surprised New Zealanders in London took part in a rowdy Waitangi Day pub crawl, saying “celebrating is part of what they do” in the British capital.

“On one level it’s great people all over the world are celebrating Waitangi Day. We would hope they would not get out of control.”

Reports of bad behaviour should not be “over-egged”, he said.

“New Zealanders are well known for having a pretty good time when they are out in London. I’d encourage them to have good behaviour where they can.

Key admitted he too celebrated Waitangi Day when he lived in London by “having a couple of beers”.

“I kept my shirt on though.”

While in one sense Key and Goff are saying the same thing (have fun but do not go overboard), Key comes over far more positive (and dare I say it relaxed) and less killjoyish.

Now you might say who cares. But how the public perceive politicians does impact how they vote. They like politicians whom they can relate to, and whom they are “normal”.

The most powerful political image of last year, was (ironically) shown the day after the election, of John Key in bare feet outside his front door picking up the pizzas, as they wait for results. It was on the front page of one of the Sunday papers, and was an incredibly powerful image. It said four things to people:

  • The Prime Minister relaxes in shorts and bare feet at home – just like most Kiwis do. Not in a suit.
  • The Prime Minister orders pizza, just like many families do
  • The PM actually goes out and pays/signs for it himself rather than sending someone else out
  • Despite it being the day which might evict him from office, he is relaxing at home with his kids, eating pizza

Of course such stuff is not the only thing that impacts politics. Policies and performance do also. But the contrast between how Goff and Key came across, despite trying to say the same thing I thought was a good lesson in communications – how to do it, and how not to do it.