I’ve previously written a couple of posts about the Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little. The first was extremely unflattering and noted that someone had credited Little with having “a dry wit”. I observed that “arid” might have been closer to the mark. To his credit, Little found this amusing. I was kinder in the second post, observing that the Leader of the Opposition might bring to the Office of Prime Minister a degree of personal integrity all too rarely evident in party politics. That second post was, I now think, a fairer summation. But, as a media trainer who has advised several Leaders of the Opposition and a couple of Prime Ministers, I know all too well that integrity is no guarantee of success in politics and that how you ‘come across’, your ‘image’, is a significant factor.
There seems to be general agreement among commentators that Little’s image has improved, that he is ‘coming across’ better. But is it better enough? Little is a rather strange looking bloke. He reminds me somewhat of an Easter Island statue. But it is not a requirement of the job he is seeking to look handsome or pretty. Cast your mind back to some previous aspirants. ‘Coming across’, particularly on television, is a different matter. And Little does not come across either in interviews or straight to camera. This is not easy to define. The closest I can come is that, however reasonable, articulate or clever Little may be, there seems to be a lack of engagement between him and his interviewer, him and his television audience.
The contact lenses which Little, I assume, acquired on advice, may be a factor but my impression is that he tends to talk at rather than to his interviewers and, through them, to us. This may reflect his trade union background where rah rah declaiming to one’s audience is the expected norm. It can be argued that John Key did Little and Labour a favour by stepping down. Bill English is no orator. But he has a dry, no-nonsense, Southern man quality about him that is endearing. And a wry sense of humour. More importantly, he looks and sounds honest. It would be very foolish indeed to discount his chances of winning the September election. If Little is to reduce the chances of that happening he must learn to engage with his interviewers and with the hugely important viewer at home.