I’ve been thinking about likability this week.
It’s a version of the over-used term ‘X-Factor’, and in exactly the same way, you’ve either got it or you don’t.
What we’ve seen from the National Party this week once again shows us that while you may be a decent, capable, intelligent person, it’s probably how you communicate your ideas and aspirations that will make or break you.
Simon Bridges is just the latest ‘good guy to get a rough deal’; only a few years ago it was Labour whipping through their opposition leaders, ending with the last minute Hail Mary to Jacinda Ardern.
Likability is important in life: it’s really important in politics.
Many of us would like to think policy is what counts when voters are considering which party best matches their values and aspirations. But there’s no doubt likability plays a role encouraging those teetering on the fence to jump your way, keeping the party faithful happy, and ultimately in keeping your job.
As Jacindamania took hold at the last election, many commentators and politicians warned of a rise in personality driven politics in New Zealand. Former Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett warned New Zealand the choice was between "selfies, smiles and substance".
Labour supporters must have rolled their eyes as they thought the same about Sir John Key - his campaign tool, “smile and wave”.
Looking back at our most memorable leaders, many have been people kiwis’ have loved, or loved to hate. Often, if you don’t like a politician it’s to do with policy; and if you do like them, it’s something to do with personality.
There are leaders that inspire regardless of whether you agree with their politics or not.
In 1972 a reserved Jack Marshall had no chance against the engaging personality of Norman Kirk.
In 1984 as a teenager I can remember the sea change that swept across the country as it bore witness to the cutting wit and eloquence of David Lange – a breath of fresh air after the Muldoon era.
At the end of the last century, Helen Clarke brought an air of competence and stability to the Beehive; and then John Key frustrated every career politician by making it look like the easiest thing in the world.
We can’t know what impact the National leadership change will have on the election in September; but we’re reminded last election that a change close to an election at least makes things more interesting, and potentially really shakes things up.
Especially considering what we’ve heard from Todd Muller so far – a couple of days in he appears on the right track by pitching National as the party of economic recovery. His decision if he becomes Prime Minister to take on the Small Business portfolio is smart, as is his praise of Ardern’s handling of this latest crisis.
Muller clearly knows where he’s going and, just as importantly, at first blush, he appears to know how to talk to people about it.
It’s very early days, but he appears quite likeable.