Advice for Phil

There was an interview with Phil Goff in the Weekend Herald. First of all I can’t resist a swipe:

He’s been the leader of the Labour Party for seven months now and I wanted to know how he thought he was doing. He says the Mt Albert byelection was the first big test of his leadership. I say the handling of the Richard Worth issue was.

We got into a circular argument over why he called the Labour Party woman at the centre of the row “strikingly beautiful”. I want to know why on earth he said it; he can’t see what my problem is. He says it was absolutely relevant because “that was one of the things that made her attractive to Dr Worth”.

How could he possibly know that? Does he think only strikingly beautiful women get hit on?

Now he has to make the giant leap from robot (he teased me by asking how I voted in the byelection, so I’m teasing him back) to human being. Because, I say, staying on message is used as a criticism of his personal style.

“That’s one of the challenges of moving from being a member of caucus to leader – people want to know more about you.” He has to make himself interesting. “I have to make myself more public. People are asking of me: ‘We want to see the full human being …’ I’ve never felt I’ve had to go and sell myself as a fully rounded person that people want to know about.”

For my 2c I think this is right. Goff’s public profile is almost universally of him as an MP, and almost nothing of the man. What do I mean by that?

Well to take just one (superficial) example – I don’t even know the name of his wife. Now I know it isn’t meant to be about your family, but the public likes to know little thinsg such as Jim’s wife Joan had nine kids and was a devoted mum, and Jenny’s husband Burton was a basketball player and banker etc.

Now if someone who follows politics as religiously as me doesn’t even know the name of Goff’s wife, I can assure you almost no one in NZ knows her name. Now the name of Mrs Goff is a trivial issue, but it is an example of how NZ does not yet know Phil Goff except as a former (and competent) Minister.

He had the misfortune to become Labour Leader the same week John Key became Prime Minister. All the normal profiles were not done.

Goff should have an interesting story to tell. He was a Minister in both the 4th and the 5th Labour Government. Unlike Clark and Cullen though he was no rebel against Douglas – he was a loyal follower. But I don’t know what he actually believes in. At present he sounds like a clone of Helen Clark – against any private sector involvement in well almost anything. He needs to explain how a Goff-led Government would differ from a Clark-led Government. Yes I know the rank and file activists still love Helen, but she only got 33% of the vote in 2008 – Goff will not grow that unless people understand what he stands for. I would be fascinated to hear Goff on (for example) the five best things the 4th and 5th Labour Government each did.

Labour’s tactics at the moment are pretty fucked. They do not understand the difference between opposing a hugely popular new Government (and PM) and opposing a third term tired Government. The tactics National used against Labour from 2005 – 2008, are not (yet) going to work against National.

If Goff wants to become PM one day, he should do the following:

  1. Do a series of puff pieces in the women’s mags etc. Have us learn more about Phil Goff. Do some extended interviews with the weekly newspapers.
  2. Dampen down the negative tactics. The handling of the Choudary allegations was clumsy at best.  Labour is far too focused on “beltway” issues and not issues that matter to voters.
  3. Start outlining what Goff believes in, and how it differs from both Helen Clark and John Key.  This will not be without risk but is necessary.
  4. Do a reshuffle within 12 months and promote some of the Class of 2008 to more senior positions, and go into the next election with a shadow cabinet that doesn’t look like the one thrown out three years earlier.

As I said before, Goff at the moment is a enigma. And people don’t vote fr enigmas. Being a competent Foreign and Trade Minister doesn’t impress a lot of voters. They want to know more than that.

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