Yesterday Chris Trotter’s Bowalley Road blog, headed The Unfortunate Experiment, came to the conclusion that David Shearer had to go as leader of the Labour Party. Trotter’s caption, beneath a photograph of Shearer, read: David Shearer is an immensely likeable bloke, and his work at the UN was truly inspirational, but he ain’t anybody’s kind of leader. Trotter then advanced his reasons for believing that Shearer had to go. And I think those reasons are sound. Other bloggers from both Right and Left appear to agree.
But this is all just wisdom after the event. Shearer won the leadership of the Labour Party over David Cunliffe on December 13 last year. Six days earlier I had written a post on this site, titled Shearer or Cunliffe? Why I’ve changed my mind. If you revisit that post you’ll find that it’s remarkably similar in content to Chris Trotter’s blog, dated, four-and-a-half months after Shearer assumed the leadership? And it’s precisely what other bloggers are also now saying? And yes, I’m blowing my own trumpet. And I’m entitled. Wisdom before the event is a helluva lot more impressive and useful than wisdom after the event. This morning my co-commentator on The Nation and fellow media trainer Bill Ralston joked about Shearer, ‘He should have had some media training.’ But it was a joke.
Media training would have made not an iota of difference to Shearer’s fortunes. He would have proved untrainable. That sounds harsh, but it is not intended to be. Shearer is simply miscast as the leader of a political party in opposition. To change his image, he would have to change his personality and that, in human terms, could only be a change for the worse. Shearer is genetically challenged as a Leader of the Opposition. The killer instinct and the showbiz gene are both missing. He can be reasonable but he can’t project. Media training is a waste of time for such politicians. Worse, it’s transparent, an ineffective cover-up job that listeners and viewers can recognise and see through. And that is damaging. Bill Rowling, whom I mentioned in the earlier blog, was a strong personality who looked weak on television.
Attempts to make him more forceful made him look like a weak man trying to appear forceful. A similar fate was met by the rather wooden Geoffrey Palmer, who was Prime Minister for a year and who, I’m told, received media advice from some Australian gurus in the art. The advice was apparently to be physically more animated and smile more. The effect, however, was to make him look remarkably like the American Eagle on The Muppets. Media trainers need first and foremost to be skilled diagnosticians. A wrong diagnosis, followed by inappropriate treatment can be fatal to the patient’s prospects of survival. Sometimes, as in the case of David Shearer, it is kindest to admin that there is no cure and wish them a happy life – perhaps doing something else.