Memo to Shearer: be more like Bob McCoskrie

I watched the Campbell Live piece on David Shearer last night (after the fact, as MySky has completely denuded me of any ability to sit through advertisements, or stories I have no interest in) and came away with two conclusions:

  1. It’s very scary when I agree with Comrade Trotter.
  2. David Shearer needs to be more like Bob McCoskrie.

Don’t check your calendars, dear readers, it’s not April Fools’ Day.

The main thrust of the story seemed to be this:  Shearer hasn’t made much impact;  this is despite a busy media schedule;  now-ex-Chief of Staff Stuart Nash argues that we should be more understanding, because (taking out the dead-like-shoulderpads Christmas period) you can’t expect someone to build in three months the equivalent profile of a Prime Minister who’s been in the job four years.

And I say:  Bob McCoskrie proves you wrong.  Ken Orr proves you wrong.  David Russell, bless him, proved you wrong back when he was the spokesperson for the Consumer Institute.  Even Chris Trotter proves you wrong.

Besides all being middle-aged white dudes (and thus imparted with Authority), they have something in common:

They’re all guys who have made themselves the go-to guy on their chosen issues.

Study comes out about smacking, marriage breakdown, gay adoption?  BOOM!  Quote from Bob McCoskrie.  International news story vaguely related to uterus-carrying people?  BOOM!  Ken Orr is there to slut-shame it.  Something broke?  BOOM!  David Russell will reassure you.  Labour sneezed?  BOOM!  Chris Trotter appears, twirling his glorious moustache.

I remember, back when I was a younger Queen of Thorns, how any deliberately-offensive piece of art or criticism of religious education in schools would, as though by magic, summon Lindsay Freer, spokeswoman for the NZ Catholic Church, to share her/the Church’s views.  It annoyed the shit out of me, to be honest.  There are more Anglicans in New Zealand than Catholics, and by far more non-Catholic Christians than Catholics, and twice as many people who state “no religion” than Catholics …

And Lindsay Freer was there on my telly like her viewpoint carried some automatic kind of weight.

Lindsay, and Bob and Ken and David and Chris, didn’t just wake up one morning with the media desperate to give them a soapbox.  Whether by making outrageous statements, spamming the world with media releases on every single issue, providing statistics (helpfully furnished by Curia) which made them appear to have a weight of morality or popular opinion on their side, these people/the organisations they represent infiltrated the brains of our mainstream media and said “Yo, peeps, I’m good for a story.”

Now, I do not doubt David Shearer has a diary jam-packed with radio interviews and the like.  But obviously, they’re not having impact.  He’s sitting there on Campbell Live saying “look, I’ve been on the telly every night this week” and it’s like he and his advisors haven’t figured out that so is the ASB investment advisor dude with funny teeth, but no one’s pulling his photo out of a lineup either.

This ties together with the issue I have about Stuart Nash’s argument:  that Shearer’s effectively only had three months and that’s no time to build a profile compared to the PM.

He’s the Leader of the Opposition, Stuart.  He’s the opposite of the PM.  When the PM speaks, Shearer should be right there after him to say “yea” or “nay” (if we must continue to follow the bullshit idea that “no one like the Opposition to oppose things because it’s so negative”).*  When John Key issues a policy, and the journalists are all looking for handy quotes to stick in the second-to-last paragraph in order to appear “balanced”, that should be your quote.

Not Metiria Turei’s.  Not Russell Norman’s.  Not Winston “exciting quote machine” Peters’.  If John Key opens his mouth, your office should be the very next place the journalist who witnessed it goes to, and you should have a response lined up, and it should be snappy.

You do your damnedest to create an environment in which people know who you are precisely because wherever John Key is mentioned, there you are mentioned also.  Like R2-D2 and C-3PO.  French and Saunders.

There are only two potential problems:

1.  It might be that the media really do all hate you and refuse to report on what you say. 

Oops, except for that “I’ve been on the telly every night this week” thing.  Clearly, the media do feel some kind of basic boring duty to report on what David Shearer’s doing; it’s just not inspiring them to write feature articles (unless someone exciting like Cunliffe is involved).

Unfortunately, the fact that Shearer’s office either felt compelled or, when asked, decided it wouldn’t look defensive to release evidence that he has “tonnes” of media engagements, kinda leads me to think this is the argument they’re going with.**

2.  You can’t be eloquent without something to be eloquent about.

This was my problem with Goff until about ten minutes before the polls opened, and it’s certainly my problem with Shearer:  I have no freaking idea what he stands for.  Something to do with ExcaliburShadow yachts?

There was a punchy little comment in the Campbell Live story which didn’t really get answered, something like “And can he deliver a good media soundbite?”  I would say no.  I cannot think of a short, snappy phrase uttered by Shearer, or Goff before him, that in any way compared to “take the sharp edges off the recession” or “mum and dad investors”.  “NooNoo Zealand” certainly doesn’t cut it.

Put it this way:  Winston Peters is back at the forefront, again, with his tired old “damn Asians” routine.  Only he’s given it a fresh spin and thrown out a key message that makes a large number of Kiwis instinctively start humming a Mutton Birds classic.  Watch and learn, Shearer.  Please.


*The first article on Campbell Live this episode?  About children going to school in shoes I wouldn’t use for target practice.  Guess what, Labour, shit’s getting negative enough.

**I wish I felt this was some improvement on the Pagani-patented “be more like John Key, people like John Key” strategy but at the end of the day we’re still screwed.


  1. Deborah

    Yes. I thought the DS interview was very revealing – all excuses, and when he was asked for Labour’s vision, he couldn’t come up with anything other than lexical hesitations and platititudes.

    • QoT

      Well, let’s remember (because I don’t know if I’m ever going to get over mocking this line) visions are like Excalibur.

  2. lilacsigil

    Very true. I may despise Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott with all my heart, but he does have the ability to stay on topic and get himself quoted on just about anything the government does ever.