The repackaging of Phil Goff has to be one of the more
grisly public-relations jobs undertaken in New Zealand
politics. It’s as if someone were trying to convince us
that Keith Holyoake was a closet Grateful Dead fan, or
that Jenny Shipley studied Barthesian semiotics.
Attempted image makeovers on this scale usually signify
desperation on the part of the party concerned, so this
does not bode well for Labour. As I wrote in my Helen
Clark biography, ‘Successful leadership is finding the
right level of projection—a level at which you feel
comfortable about yourself and at the same strike the
public as credible, if not convincing.’ Somewhat
gratuitously, I added that ‘It ain’t as easy as it sounds.'
Most politicians who fail this test tend to fall down on
the credibility issue. Goff's an odd one: he's credible as
all get out, but never seems comfortable with himself in
the public arena. He always strikes one as acting a part.
We all do, of course—politicians more than most. The
trick is hiding it; a trick that Goff, I fear, has never
mastered. And no amount of motorcycle-riding, rolled
up-shirtsleeves masquerading is going to change that.
Fundamentally the guy's a machine politician, and
although the fall of the cards sometimes favours such
types, who really wants to vote for a machine?