Plain English or a socially savvy PM?

Luke Balvert | Account Manager Social Media

photo: New Zealand Tertiary Education Union

It is safe to say Prime Minister Bill English is more comfortable crunching numbers and plotting how to increase the country’s surplus than trying his hand at keeping up with the Millennials and social media.

Following his appointment as PM from John Key, and with the general election looming, it is evident someone has had a whisper in the new PM’s ear to get socially savvy and boost his profile.

Blossoming amongst the Facebook posts of politics, spin and pre-election promises is this English 2.0 version trying to show us the man stepping out from the shadows to appeal to voters.

He’s drawn criticism from US late night comedian Jimmy Kimmel for slapping pineapple and spaghetti on a pizza, coined the term ‘walk-runs’ while showing how he paces up the hills of the capital for a bit of exercise and asked the public to vote on which humble pie Finance Minister Steven Joyce should be presented with to celebrate a Budget Day tradition.

For the record, steak and cheese got devoured with a 51% vote. 

Yes, these are all great ideas to help make English more relatable and not too cerebral or serious. But you just get the feeling there is someone – his press team, no doubt – pulling the strings in an attempt to re-cast the prime minister.

And these are big shoes to fill given John Key was the king of soft media, and so far, English is out of his depth and falling short of his predecessor’s polished product – rather a clumsily advised and poorly executed version.

Clearly, it’s obvious that English is not comfortable with this forced, awkward social media spin and one wonders what we would get if English was able to (time constraints forgiving of course) produce some authentic natural material of the man he truly is.

I immediately think back to an article/video stuff.co.nz ran earlier this year ‘A weekend to get to know Prime Minister Bill English’ of the man in his home town of Dipton and delving into the humble rural beginnings he was brought up on.   

A down-to-earth Kiwi bloke who is good on a farm and with strong family values many Kiwis can relate to or cheesy social media narrative of a pizza making, hard exercising man? Take your pick.

On the other side of the ledger, opposition leader Andrew Little’s Facebook page is heavy with politics and what a Labour-led government would offer if they broke National’s stranglehold on the polling booths.

Plans to tackle a nationwide housing crisis, how to counter immigration issues and predictable attacks on the latest budget. The Labour press team is playing it safe and steering clear of the goofy, cringe-worthy model National is currently trying with English.  

There is the odd snippet of personality with a ‘Beer & Politics’ national roadshow and on May 12, 2017 a six second video, titled ‘Ironing out the final details for Congress this weekend’ featuring Little ironing a dress shirt while colleagues discuss politics.

With arguments for both sides of the social media spectrum, polling day (Saturday September 23) will be the marker of whether National’s quirky, slightly awkward persona will reap the rewards or if the PM will be best suited to sticking to plain English.