Politics and the art of seduction

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 10:25 09/11/2013
David Cunliffe
Kirk Hargreaves/Fairfax NZ

DAVID CUNLIFFE: HE has won over downstairs.

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Martin van Beynen

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OPINION: Recently I had to explain to my son the secret of being successful with women.

Not that I was, even though when I am asked, I like to boast many have feasted at my table, which, of course, doesn't fool anybody.

The secret, and this will save many young men from making fools of themselves and is actually worth money when I think of it, is this: It is not what you do; it's how you make them feel.

Now pedants will retort that you have to do something to evoke a feeling but the point is that women are not necessarily looking for heroics or intelligence or beauty. They like men who make them feel heroic, intelligent and beautiful.

It's this rule that Labour leader David Cunliffe needs to remember if he is going to seduce the New Zealand public to the extent he rescues the Labour Party from eternal opposition and avoids a horrific coalition with NZ First and Peter Dunne.

You would think Cunliffe would not need to be told this but politicians and their handlers get so disconnected from ordinary New Zealanders, they need to be reminded of home truths.

John Key's secret is that he, and by extension his party, never forgets how he needs to make people feel. He understands National can do marvellous things for the country and it won't necessarily get any credit.

By the same token, it can get caught out making shameful mistakes and still not see a huge drop in popularity or confidence.

Key has a reputation as the teflon man but he in truth is not particularly adroit at dealing with scandal and tricky issues. He simply understands that most New Zealanders don't care terribly much about complicated issues, like whether we should be prospecting for oil and gas or strengthening spy legislation. He recognises that if Kiwis do care about political issues they are usually the wrong ones and if they do care, they don't care enough.

For instance, he realised straight away the new snapper limit, which was eminently reasonable and justified, would cause much more fuss than National's support for the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement ever would.

Although they probably shouldn't, New Zealanders, who have been assailed with the extremism of Robert Muldoon and Roger Douglas and have grown used to the pragmatism of Helen Clark and John Key, generally trust their politicians to work out what is best for the country.

They have become accustomed to governments not achieving very much and trust them only not to do too much damage. Notice how parties have even stopped promising much.

Key, despite what he might be in private, comes across as a genuine, inclusive, flexible, affable gent who is happy in his own skin. He makes people feel secure. They feel they can trust him not to make a botch of the whole job and they are worthwhile people who deserve to get their pension at 65 even if the country can't afford it.

He is a hard act to match and Cunliffe will have to aim at cultivating a similar feeling.

Cunliffe has already fallen into the trap of coming out with a bold policy move - a Kiwi insurance company (isn't that EQC?) modelled on Kiwibank - which makes him look like a try-hard.

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Of course a good deal of voters are tribal. Some will never vote for Labour and much the same proportion will never vote for National. Cunliffe is like a new butler in Downton Abbey. With a bit of reddish rhetoric he has won over downstairs but Lord Grantham and his ilk will never vote for him. Now he needs to convince the rest of the workers and managers on the estate he can do as good a job as Lord Key.

The Red Flag, while it may thrill the champagne socialists, is never going to do much for the ordinary voters in the middle. They won't necessarily be affected by an increase in the tax rate but they don't like the thought of the better off being taxed too heavily because they hope to be making that much themselves one day.

These middle voters are precisely the ones Cunliffe must win over by making them feel good. Cunliffe cannot afford to make them feel like they don't contribute enough to keeping those at the bottom in a reasonable standard of living or borrow too much on their houses or don't educate their kids well enough.

He also needs to act as though he is sharp, approachable, unruffled, unpretentious, pragmatic, is enjoying himself and is potentially prime minister material. No-one can do this by second guessing himself all the time. Cunliffe can't be thinking how his every statement or move is going to go down. Practice will help but his instincts have to be good in the first place.

Politicians are very strange animals. They are not like us at all but they have to appear to be. Cunliffe still looks quite different to us and makes us feel nervous. If and when he masters the trick of making us feel comfortable and even a little excited he will know he has cracked it. The rule for successful seduction is the same for garnering voters.

- The Press

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