Few personality traits are more infuriating than a politician running down opponents.
These attacks are never spontaneous, just attack lines for the day, mapped out in some back room so that somebody can go out and parrot the message.
This will be done repeatedly, in the hope that even if the claim is not strictly true the message still becomes embedded in the minds of distracted voters.
Petty politics grates like fingernails dragged across a blackboard – irritating, predictable verbiage, sprouting forth from politicians trying to land punches.
They think they’re engaging, but the politicking and posturing simply alienates voters.
I’ve had to sit through years of Question Time and debates and I’m still impressed with a politician who creates or promotes ideas, of their own or from their party, without the petty rancour.
Former Prime Minister Paul Keating kept us interested in great one-liners because he usually created them and delivered them so cleverly, but he was a freak politician.
I’ve never seen a politician as good.
Former Federal Treasurer Peter Costello was entertaining, with a blend of ridicule and humour, but I always suspected he was trying to emulate the Keating magic.
Scott Morrison is no wordsmith, but his electoral stocks soared with the onset of COVID-19, because he tried to be inclusive and kept his focus on the virus while ignoring the politics.
He talked to us, not at us.
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews is surviving the hotel quarantine issue because he remains composed and focussed, with minimal politicking.
He does so in the face of extreme provocation from people like Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, whose peculiar style is profound melodrama.
He couldn’t execute a credible attack if his life depended on it.
Bill Shorten was a babe in the woods at the last election.
He never sounded sincere and always looked scripted.
The community doesn’t want the political style that works on the basis of your own side being perfect and the other side evil personified.
Neither side of politics is a paragon of wisdom.
They’re all Australians, sharing the same ambition to improve conditions for fellow Australians.
They may differ on the method, but they’re not natural enemies.
To pretend otherwise is merely perpetuating a myth.
Effective communicators in current politics, with successful cut-through to voters, include Scott Morrison, Dan Andrews, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.
Albanese is no smooth operator but he’s good at common sense explanations.
He sounds convincing and should have led Labor to the last Federal election.
These leaders are naturals. Even when they’re boxed into a corner they remain humble and composed.
The latest opinion poll puts Premier Peter Gutwein streets ahead of Labor leader Rebecca White but that is mostly due to the pandemic which has lifted the electoral stocks of all leaders.
She is equally as talented as Gutwein in communicating policies in a non-combative way, so without the pandemic and an unrealistic poker machine policy she will be competitive if the Parliament goes its full term.
People want a conversation from their political leaders, not a scripted speech and I suspect the more confident a politician is in their work the more natural and spontaneous they become.
Politicians who struggle with delivery and resort to abuse ought to undertake training. There are plenty of PR companies that can facilitate it.
For any politician wanting to get traction my advice is minimise the attack lines and start a conversation with voters.
The aim is conviction and sincerity – in most cases, just being yourself and being on top of your brief.
The politician with the right approach to engagement can promote their side of politics without dragging that proverbial fingernail across a blackboard.
Successful politicians are also those who have listened to colleagues and staff and worn constructive criticism.
The key to a good delivery is as simple as talking to a mate in a pub.
Dan Andrews is an expert. Voters listen.
US President Donald Trump is a terrible communicator because he wants to be divisive.
Attack lines are the only tools he knows, so he sounds aggressive and phoney.
Former president Barack Obama always explained rather than lectured, in a way Donald Trump could never contemplate because he won’t listen to people.
He’s not interested.
Ideally politicians could avoid scripted attack lines altogether but that’s unrealistic. Voters need their politicians to highlight good and bad ideas.
A good politician is one who doesn’t personalise the argument, doesn’t play the person and not the ball, and keeps the focus on the issue even when on the attack.
The nation’s leaders rated highly at the start of the pandemic because they had to work together in Scott Morrison’s national cabinet.
Attack lines became irrelevant.
Obviously, it wasn’t going to last, but politics was beautiful while it did.
- Barry Prismall is a former The Examiner deputy editor and Liberal adviser