It’s still the economy, stupid

Michael Dunkley gave his first national address last night. The Bernews story, text and video are here
The news items were payroll tax relief for construction, which will be welcomed by that beleaguered industry, and a promise to have PATI in place by next year. We will see about that one …
The themes of the speech were more important since this was the opportunity for Dunkley to set the tone of his leadership.
The first theme is contained in these two paragraphs:
“Our success cannot be defined just by growth in business and new investment, but it is important to understand that they are essential for the jobs and opportunities people need to support their families.
“We will therefore continue stimulating the economy wherever we can because of its potential to improve the lives and prospects of more people more quickly than anything else.”
This is the underpinning for the OBA government, and the key to their sustained longevity.
Basically, the best form of welfare is jobs, and economic growth is essential to delivering jobs. Everything else is a question of re-slicing a shrinking pie.
It’s good to see Dunkley emphasizing this, and it should be his central focus and message. Curiously, as a Minister, he floated a side issues like ending conscription and re-examining cannabis laws, both of which could be seen as distractions from the big issues.
But having seen crime fall, there’s not much more for a National Security Minister to do, and precious little on the economy itself. Now as Premier, he can set the tone for the whole government.
The second theme was his declaration that he is an optimist.
This too is welcome. Politicians often fall into negative and positive camps.
Negative politicians identify problems, and hopefully, propose solutions. But often they end up saying why things can’t be done and how hopeless everything is.
Positive politicians see improvement and possibilities and work to enhance them.
On the whole, positive politicians are more electable, not least because they give people hope.
Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were positive politicians and arguably the most successful of the last 40 years. Tony Blair was positive until Iraq destroyed him. Jimmy Carter started positive and ended negative, especially in his malaise period.
Dunkley needs to keep his optimism – it won’t be easy – and he needs to avoid trying to be all things to all people. Most importantly he needs to ensure he doesn’t get stuck in the Cabinet Office “bubble”. Walking the streets as John Swan did wasn’t just good for getting votes, it meant he kept his ear to the ground. Yes, it took up a lot of time, but it was worth it. No other Premier has done it so such effect.

The other key is to maintain an informal network of people who aren’t afraid to deliver hard truths – Dunkley has a reasonably thick skin so he should be able to take it.

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