Friday, March 26, 2010

Is Kristina Leading The Team, Or Is The Team Leading Her?

It is exactly one year today until the New South Wales State election, and the countdown has begun with a flurry of politicking. The Government has produced a television advertising campaign to spruik its achievements, the opposition has fired back with its own ads featuring a five point strategy and a brand new slogan to “Make New South Wales Number One Again”, and today we have seen the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition face each other in a televised debate. Of course, unlike the recent federal debate, you needed to have access to pay TV to see it.

At the same time, the Daily Telegraph has revealed that opinion polls now show Premier Kristina Keneally to be the most popular political leader in Australia, surpassing even the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who may have suffered some damage in recent months but still retains healthy approval ratings himself. Overwhelmingly, people like Kristina Keneally, but the same polls also show that they consider her to be what the Telegraph described as a “political lightweight”. More importantly, the polls indicate that Kristina Keneally’s popularity has failed to improve the Labor Party’s approval which remains at an historic and terminal low.

The point is that it doesn’t matter how popular the Premier might be while the Government remains so unpopular. Even so, Kristina Keneally’s personal popularity is a remarkable achievement, and vindicates the decision to change the party’s leadership last year. At the time, much was made about the role of so called powerbrokers Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi, and Eric Roosendaal, with the allegation that the new Premier would be nothing more than a puppet. Perhaps that is why so many people might like the Premier as much as they apparently do, but still distrust the government she leads.

But even Kristina Keneally was installed as premier by decision makers behind the scenes, it has turned out to be one of the best decision they could have made. The Premier is so well liked because she is a genuinely likeable person: attractive, charming, warm, articulate and intelligent. She is well skilled in the art of public relations, and that is one of the crucial functions of any political leader. It is the job of the leader to be the front person for the party, to represent the policies and the agenda of the team, and to be the public face of the government. Any leader can only do that with the proper support of the team behind them, something which Kristina Keneally’s predecessors did not always enjoy, but given that support she is more than capable of filling the role.

The only question is whether or not she can convince the people of New South Wales, in the next twelve months, that she really is leading the team, rather than the team leading her. The people of New South Wales know that it is still the same team that was responsible for all the failures of the past decade and a half. It is still the same team that most people are no longer prepared to trust. That is what is reflected in the opinion polls, and that is what will determine the election.

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