The Labour Party's spin doctors are doing a cracking job

by Bill Ralston / 23 April, 2018

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attends The Queen's Dinner at Buckingham Palace. Photo/Getty Images

Perhaps Labour's PR outfit should next turn their talents to Washington, where Donald Trump is turning the White House into a cesspit.

Looking at the relative tranquillity of our Government and then glancing across the Pacific at the train wreck of the US Presidency can cause a warm and cosy feeling. Except for the most politically rabid in New Zealand, most of us would feel – to use an old overworked John Key expression – “relaxed” about how things are going here.

Of course, that could be because after a horrible month of public relations disasters for the Labour-New Zealand First-Green Government, the tsunami of bad news has washed over us, leaving a sense of eerie calm.

And that may be because Labour has reportedly brought in a private firm of spin doctors to exert some control over the information flow from the top of the Beehive. GJ Thompson was, until recently, filling in as Jacinda Ardern’s chief of staff before he returned to the privately run lobbying and public relations company Thompson Lewis. David Lewis, a chief press secretary in Helen Clark’s Government, is also a director of that company. Thompson Lewis is now said to be exercising its considerable crisis management skills for the Ardern Government to some effect.

Those who find it strange that a private consultancy company outside the Beehive should be setting the course for the Labour part of the Government’s communications may reflect on the 1980s Labour Government’s privatisation of a number of state-owned enterprises. Why not privatise the state’s communications these days?

Perhaps the pair should next turn their talents to Washington, where Donald Trump appears to be turning the White House into a cesspit. With Michael Cohen, Trump’s long-time lawyer, now a target in the cross hairs of investigators, the New Yorker declares: “We are now in the end stages of the Trump Presidency.” Fired former FBI director James Comey publishes a book likening Trump to a mob boss. Trump responds to all the attacks with a mounting fury of Twitter invective – for instance, calling Comey an “untruthful slime ball”.

Personally, I do not care if the Russians applied their cunning computer abilities to get Trump elected. I do not even worry if the allegations in the Steele dossier – that Moscow prostitutes urinated on each other while Trump watched – are true. I should point out that Trump denies that because he is a “germophobe” and says he did not spend the whole night in the hotel room used.

There again, I should point out that Comey said in a recent television interview, “Well, should I say that, as I understand the activity, sir, it doesn’t require an overnight stay? And given that it was allegedly the presidential suite at the Ritz Carlton, I would imagine you could be at a safe distance from the activity.”

Ah, if only we could have that kind of political discourse in New Zealand. Instead, we seem to abide by Marquess of Queensberry rules. Before whisking off to Europe, Ardern declares a moratorium on new exploration of offshore oil and gas fields and is greeted with widespread public delight that we are in the forefront of saving the planet. Most of us would have missed the grumble from her opponents that interest in new exploration had waned and it was possible no oil companies would have been interested in new permits anyway.

That is the fine art of spin-doctoring. Before anyone from the right calls foul on Thompson Lewis with its Labour connections, I should point out Wayne Eagleson, the chief of staff to two National prime ministers, has also joined the firm, making it somewhat more blessedly ecumenical in nature.

This article was first published in the April 28, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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