Aug 16, 2008

Follow Your Instincts John

Fran O'Sullivan suggests that John Key this week missed an opportunity to grow brand Key by sticking to the Party script on social welfare. Fran suggests that John should learn from Bill Clinton and talk direct to solo-mums, explaining why it is in their best interests to find a job when their youngest turns 6. She suggests that John draw upon personal experience.

It's a pity National leader John Key did not reach out directly to domestic purposes beneficiaries to persuade them why it was in their best interests to seek work once their youngest reaches six.

If Key had followed his own nose, rather than allowing himself to be played into Collins' more party-aligned agenda, he could have produced a truly compelling and inspirational message. By talking to domestic purposes beneficiaries directly _ in the way former US President Bill Clinton reached across divides to sell his message "you've got to get a job" _ Key's parallels with his own life would have carried more authenticity.

The Key brand is well understood: a politician who was brought up in a State-house by a widowed mother who eked out her benefit through part-time work, thus teaching her son the skills of self-reliance which enabled him to move on to a stellar career in the financial world.
On Monday he "unashamedly" focused on the term "welfare" saying he believed in the welfare state and had a personal commitment to it.
"By having our most basic needs covered as a family (through the widows benefit) we were able to hold on to that most precious human emotion _ hope."
Key relates he can't remember a time when his mother didn't work, at least part-time, although he cannot put a date to when she moved back into full-time work. Welfare analysts have been quick to point out that Mrs Key's situation is not analogous with today's DPB beneficiaries. She was a member of the "deserving poor". Her widow's benefit _ at 65 per cent of the then average wage _ was not abated when she took on extra work as a night porter.

Key has not rebutted the criticisms (he has swiftly moved on to other policy launches) yet he could easily do so. His mother's lesson was surely to seek work for self-pride as much as the money, and that working was an essential element to life.
The parallels Key should be making are with himself. The joy he felt from helping his mother out with a paper run, admiring her determination to put bread on the table and ensure he got a good education, will resonate with children of beneficiaries. Children can be extraordinarily persuasive when it comes to reinforcing the determination of parents to get out of welfare traps.
He has a real opportunity to dig deep into those personal experiences and share them to inspire others. It's not just about hope _ but daring.