Friday, May 9, 2014

PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING

It is often said politics is war by other means. 

Premier Frank Coleman is expressing his concerns about how nasty and personal  his political baptism has become.  It must be very difficult to transition from a relatively cloistered life to having your every personal conviction and business dealing challenged in public forums.  While I sympathize with him, the scrutiny comes with taking on the province's top job in politics.

From my perspective, he is the victim of his own communication missteps which have spiraled out of control blowing into full-fledged scandals. When a public figure is slow to respond or they are considered to be disingenuous,  the result is like putting blood in the water. The sharks in the opposition and the media are drawn to the scent.

I recall being a young reporter in Stephenville when Clyde Wells became leader of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador. The governing tories saw him as a threat. The leader was touring the province, bringing a decade and a half of organizational chaos in the Liberal Party to an end and offering policy alternatives to the Peckford regime. 

The governing Tories attempted to focus on Wells himself. There was questions in the media, the open lines and a whisper campaign to discredit him. His successful career as a lawyer was questioned. Did Wells not represent criminals? Did he not work for the Canadian Government on contentious files like the offshore reference? They questioned a salary supplement that he was provided by a group of Liberal supporters. 

Character assassination was the name of the game. Wells was a threat to the status quo. He was not any where near the levers of power but his every pronouncement and past career was put under intense scrutiny.

Fast forward to the current situation where a political neophyte has been acclaimed as leader of the governing party after a messy leadership shrouded in controversy and allegations of manipulation. The media and the public want to know what he stands for today and what he has stood for in the past. He is going to be the Premier.


Frank Coleman has been defined as being on the side of corporations and special interests. Fairly, or unfairly, perception is reality. The way we perceive something makes it OUR reality. That is how politics works. What the public perceives to be true is important, not if something is actually true. If a politician is perceived to be honest or dishonest that is “reality"

His job, or the job of his advisers, is to paint him as a visionary with a successful business record and progressive social background. The failure to communicate falls on his team and the piss poor approach to renewal that was a flawed leadership process.  A reactive approach engaged in perpetual damage control has not served him, or his party well. You may or may not have control over the issues at play but you can certainly take control of how to respond to them. 

Politics is nasty, it is personal. Managing perceptions is something politicians can not escape.

If people think a bank is financially shaky they pull their money out and pretty soon it is financially shaky. The same applies to political currency.


No comments: