They're only human

There is Jenny Shipley in an ad telling us she made a mistake! And “brat pack” whiz Bill English likewise! What’s National playing at?

Human — they’re human like you and me. We all make mistakes; they underestimated the Asian crisis and the drought. Mrs Shipley, stern school-marm, has been airbrushed into Jenny, sweet, smiling mumsie-pie.

The message is that this is middle New Zealand running your country, your sort of folk. They’re honest about failings. They’ve begotten families and pick flowers and drive farmbikes in working clobber. And they don’t really make mistakes — not many. They’re capable and your tax cuts are the proof. It’s soft sell and it’s positive.

But they do make mistakes. Last week Mrs Shipley turned “hope to” into “will” for company tax cuts, putting herself at odds with Mr English. In Monday night’s debate she oversold the rescue of the Bendon workers; the rescuer wants help which Bill won’t give him. In Gisborne she said things were better than in 1990 but actually unemployment has got worse.

Parties fear mistakes in election campaigns like the pox. The media latch on to mistakes and blot out the message parties want across. Mistakes can lose elections: Sir Robert Muldoon’s over-aggressive style evaporated National’s comfortable lead in 1978.

Helen Clark (who also smiles a lot these days) seldom makes mistakes. But last weekend she let herself be reported as aiming to halve unemployment in three years which she herself said next day was impossible. And she over-reacted to National’s use of families in ads as an implied criticism of her childlessness, thereby drawing attention to it.

Worse was her poetic licence over the finances of a solo mother of seven in Labour’s television opening. Roger Sowry won that round on points, with Labour stranded on the side of the sort of loser whom battlers regard askance.

And what was Pete Hodgson thinking of, drawing attention to National’s “no-crap” website which heaps dirt on Labour? From a microscopic hit rate, the website has taken off into the stratosphere. Campaign director Jeff Grant is grinning ear to ear.

There have been mistakes also in broad strategy, National in not exploiting the “brat pack” ministers earlier (it is now), Labour losing its product in supersoft-sell, vague ads.

Report card for both: could do better. Expect more attack this week — and a “people focus” from National and belated “vision” from Labour.