Brian Edwards Media

Goff Totally Loses The Plot

Herald/Paul Escourt

Herald/Paul Escourt

Either Phil Goff is getting appalling advice from his media advisers or he is ignoring good advice. Either way, his recent handling of Chris Carter would suggest that he has totally lost the plot.

One of the most basic tenets of public relations and of politics is that the ultimate goal in handling any problem is to make it go away. Our training mantra – be straightforward, tell the truth, admit your mistakes – is undoubtedly the best way to achieve that result. But however you handle the problem, the silliest thing you can do is to prolong bad media coverage by giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dying issue. That is precisely what Goff is doing by demanding that Carter front the media on the issue of his alleged abuse of his ministerial expenses, if and when he is allowed to return to parliament.

The biggest news story in New Zealand at the moment is the good news story about the All Whites’ stunning performances in South Africa. The country is in a feel-good mood and the ministerial expenses issue has faded in the print media and been largely absent from our television screens for a few days. Goff ought to be breathing a sigh of relief, more especially since his disciplining of Carter,  which the pundits said would win  him brownie points, has had no positive effect on his personal ratings as preferred Prime Minister. He is barely above the non-candidate Helen Clark.

In summary, publicity around the Carter affair has damaged Labour, and Goff’s handling of the affair has not done him or the party any good. So, with the country obsessed with soccer and the Carter issue moribund, if not actually dead, the smart thing to do would have been to get back to business as usual. Goff, however, appears to want his pound of flesh. Why? 

Essentially Goff says he is unsure that Carter’s unreserved written apology to the public, in which the former minister described himself as ‘embarrassed’ and ‘contrite’, was heartfelt or that ‘he understands why a genuine apology is needed’. ‘He needs,’ says Goff, ‘ to believe what he says. I don’t know that yet.’

So Goff has demanded an apology to the taxpayers from Carter, got that apology in the form of a full-blown maxima culpa, then decided that he isn’t happy with what’s going on in the deep recesses of Carter’s mind and demanded that he prostrate himself in sackcloth and ashes before a hostile media pack as a condition of returning to parliament.

Leaving aside the fairness or unfairness of this latest demand, it is, in political and PR terms, sheer nuts. A dying issue has been brought back to life.

And what precisely is the issue? Well, according to Goff, it is more about Carter’s excessive travel bill while a Minister than it is about his use of his ministerial credit card on personal items. So Carter is being retrospectively punished not for the (repaid) $250 worth of personal items which he put on his ministerial credit card, but for travel which was approved and signed off by a Labour Cabinet, of which Goff himself was a member.

It may well be that Carter doesn’t feel that he did anything heinous enough to deserve this level of censure or this degree of atonement. (Goff himself says that Phil Heatley’s charges to his ministerial credit card were much worse.) If that is what Carter feels then any further apology will  be as meaningless as the first. How can you apologise if you don’t think you did anything wrong? And,  technically at least, Carter did nothing that was wrong or against the rules. Perhaps what Goff wants is the sort of pathetic display of remorse that we saw from Heatley or more recently from Len Brown – Carter weeping or slapping his chest and face.

Aside from the political stupidity of dragging this whole unfortunate business out, it’s difficult to understand Goff’s motives in seeking to humiliate Carter in this way.

The most generous interpretation is that he genuinely believes that the taxpaying public deserve a fuller apology from Carter.

The less generous interpretation is that he hopes to put Carter in such an invidious position that he resigns from the party. Or alternatively that he hopes such strongarm tactics will bring him more brownie points from the pundits.

So what is Carter to do? If I were advising him, I would suggest that he swallow his pride, do whatever will satisfy Goff’s apparent bloodlust, then keep his head down until after the 2011 election, when he will almost certainly be answerable to a different, and more reasonable leader of the Labour Party.

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45 Comments:

  1. I wish they would just get on with rolling Goff now. It’s almost like they don’t care there is an election next year.

  2. I never thought I would admit this but I am starting to feel a twinge of sympathy for Chris Carter. Whatever he may or may not have done he is now falling victim to a leader who is desperate to appear strong, ‘standing no nonsense’ in the eyes of the media and the public. As a consequence he is instead looking weak and vacillating. As you suggest he should stop picking at the scab.

    I would actually have some admiration for Carter if he now refused to abase himself and instead mounted a vigorous defence. I may disagree with him but at least I could appreciate some moral courage.

    • I would actually have some admiration for Carter if he now refused to abase himself and instead mounted a vigorous defence. I may disagree with him but at least I could appreciate some moral courage.

      My understanding is that that would seem him relegated to the lowest position on the Labour benches, an effective end to his career as a Labour MP.

  3. “He is barely above the non-candidate Helen Clark.”

    It surprises me that you use this against Phil. Why does TV3 include Helen in the preferred Prime Minister poll? She’s not in the running, pointless to include her as an option for people. If Labour’s support is 29%, support for Phil should be around about that, certainly way more than he is currently polling but nonetheless an extremely unfair comparison. Carter’s going behind Phil’s back to get advise from Helen Clark must have pissed Phil off no end. I think Chris Carter isn’t wanted by Phil Goff and that is fair enough. A shame he can’t simply come out and say that, but that’s politics.

    • It surprises me that you use this against Phil

      You may be right that there’s very little sense in TV3 including Helen in its poll. But, for the moment, they do and the comparison is telling. What is also telling is the huge disparity which you point out between Goff’s and Labour’s rating. Ritual humiliation of Carter has not and will not close that gap.

  4. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And wrong, again.

    I was heartened by Derek Cheng’s report in the Herald. Finally, from Phil Goff, a long-overdue display of assertive authority from one who has been accustomed to straddling the fence and having a bob-each-way. (Doubt me? Well, I read his email that he sent out to those who expressed disgust). Finally, a no-nonsense singularity to his reproach, with Carter. Finally, a statement not clouded by ambiguity, reticence and appeasement; bordering on timidity and self-doubt. Finally, he took a step outside his “comfort zone”; out of the dark imposing shadow of Helen Clark. And, in doing so, became his own “man”.

    Carter, was not the victim of press “thuggery”; nor, can his conduct be explained as a “man who does not react, well, under pressure”. It was nothing of the sort. And Goff had the nous to see — that he didn’t, so much, come up short as put nothing up at all. If anything, it was the exact polar opposite: provocative, taunting and flaunting. As I’ve already mentioned, it was akin to showing the “extended middle finger” at the waiting media. What I witnessed, was a barely-disguised show of imperious disdain. That same smug persona that shows as he’s walking off the air bridge and turning left at the entrance of the aircraft cabin. That’s what I saw. And the press saw it, too. And reacted, accordingly. Carter is not capable of delivering a mea culpa yet alone a maxima culpa. What’s he’s dished up, so far — in the way of an apology — was resentful and perfunctory, devoid of any self-awareness and regret; so as to be utterly worthless.

    Instead, of damning Goff’s media advisors, they should be acknowledged for having the presence of mind in seeing it for it was: trite and dishonest. They know, that the Carter Affair isn’t going be submerged in a tidal wave of All-White World Cup euphoria. The sense of public anger and disgust runs too deep, for that. And it was never about the $250 credit-card charge, either. It’s about the numerous, expensive overseas trips, he took. And what he did — or rather, didn’t do — while at his preferred destinations.

    Goff is aware — that, Carter to Labour, is more than an itch that can’t be scratched; it’s more than an angry-looking raised rash; it’s more than a boil that needs lancing. He’s an open-weeping-sore, that’s become fetid. And the infection, if not checked, will spread right through the Labour Party. That’s what Carter is to Labour, right now.

    Your advice, to Carter: “I would suggest that he swallow his pride, do whatever will satisfy Goff’s apparent bloodlust, then keep his head down until after the 2011 election, when he will almost certainly be answerable to a different, and more reasonable leader of the Labour Party”.
    My advice: Go to the nearest supermarket, where you can collect some empty cartons.

    • Wrong, wrong, wrong. And wrong, again.

      Time to go back on the meds, Merv. But first check out this morning’s Herald. See if you can find a single reference to this story.

  5. Please don’t publish my comment! I am new to this type of blogging.

    I agree this carry on by Goff has done more damage than the pitiful overspending. And as you say Goff was sitting round the cabinet table when the travel was OK’d. Glad someone has had the sense to speak out. Chris is an excellent local MP and just gets on with the job out west. Goff is a goner!!!Just that he doesn’t know it.

  6. Goff’s problem is that he talks too much and hasn’t really got anything to say. While Key looks good in an All Whites shirt basking in a nation’s glory, Phil is impotent…so what does he do…starts burbling.

    Labour are starting to look more and more like the French soccer team…the Greens are looking like the Taiwanese team…obsessed with a victory over China, but not really keeping there eye on the ball…

    The only real opposition is Hone Harawira and Jim Anderton

  7. Merv’s comment should be read from an opposite political point of view. If he says Carter should stand up and fight it would really mean that Merv believes that this course of action would damage Labour.

    I cannot see what Carter has done wrong on any serious scale.
    So, like Nick Smith a fews years ago, Carter had a meltdown.
    I do think that the issue should be left to die and Carter doing whatever it takes is a necessity.

    The only advantage that I can see in Goff’s actions is that in due course he can point to his “holiness” when pointing to the PM’s action – or inaction, when someone in Nact stuffs up. And there will be one or two.

  8. 8

    Adolf Fiinkensein

    My understanding is that cabinet approves or disapproves each individual junket but at no time looks at the aggregate totality of such junkets.

    MP’s are meant to exercise judgement in this and to that end Carter is seriously deficient so it’s a bit rich to assert that Mr Goff ‘signed off his travel.’

    I think Goff is quite right to kick Carter hard and in fact it will do Labour good to be rid of him.

    I’d much rather see Carter stay on as he is one of the best vote winners for National my party has just now. Time and time again he reminds people why Labour was ousted.

  9. In trying to show he’s “tough” Goff has gone too far with the Carter spendings, it’s time for a Labour leadership change, I don’t think Goff can make any headway with National

  10. No “meds”, Brian. Ongoing (yes, it’s becoming tedious) doesn’t validate your — or my — pov.

    Carter has always been a poorly-performing Minister. He’s used his portfolios to find any reason to take an overseas trip, misusing his ministerial position for personal advantage. To me, his behaviour is defined in vivid black and white; you choose, to portray it in chiascuro. (Heck, his travel was signed off by Helen Clark and Cabinet; he was always on a genuine fact-finding trip — St. Kitts etc). Shades of doubt as to who’s responsible with regard to his exorbitant travel costs; the culpability should be shared.

    As a media PR maestro, don’t count on the All Whites’ success appearing as deus ex machina to rescue him from the gaze of public scorn. Clearly, Goff’s PR advisors haven’t.

    It was refreshing to see Goff issue a Carter media statement without the usual amibiguity and ambivalence.

  11. It’s quite obvious that Goff’s media adviser is John Tamihere.

  12. 12

    Regarding Miss Clark on the preferred PM poll
    I have often wondered why the pollsters don’t ask, “Who is the present PM?” just see if the person being polled is switched on
    I have been involved with interviewing students who hope to represent NZ overseas
    Amongst other questions we ask who is the PM, who is our Head of State and the date and relevance of the Treaty of Waitangi
    As yet none have been able to answer these correctly, which is a worry

  13. There is something wrong with the comment’s time stamp.

    • There is something wrong with the comment’s time stamp.

      Thanks, but I don’t understand what this means. You could try to explain it to me or perhaps take it up with Web Drive or WordPress on my behalf.

  14. I agree with what you say Brian, but I would add one more thing.

    If the public believe Carter is genuine, they have to believe Goff has poor judgement and if they dont believe Carter is genuine then Goff has put him in a position where every statement he makes will be questioned as to whether it is believable or not.

    Really bad call for a leader.

  15. I agree with Brian to some extent but Mr Carter should have given a genuine apology to the tax payer rather than prolonging the issue and creating unnecessary hype in the media. He should learn some lessons from Mr Jones. Mr Jones handled the matter very professionally and moved on even though Jones expenses created more hype but subsided very quickly because of his handling. I do not agree criticising the leader for Chris’s failure to handle the situation. He should swallow his pride if he violated the rules for what ever the reasons. At last Mr Goff showed his leadership in handling Mr Carter’s saga. This is a lesson for some Labour caucus members who do not think Goff is a leader and still consider Ms Clark as a leader. Go on Goff our support is with you.

  16. Thanks, note the time on your comment below (14:09) is currently 13:26 as I type.

    Just being fussy sorry.

    BE
    June 24th, 2010 at 14:09

    There is something wrong with the comment’s time stamp.

    Thanks, but I don’t understand what this means. You could try to explain it to me or perhaps take it up with Web Drive or WordPress on my behalf.

    E

  17. Is not Goff really aiming at Helen? How many leaders would put up with one of their underlings running off to the previous leader for comforting and advice? Is not the subtext – Butt out of this. No longer your business. Let me try and run this show without interference…

    • Is not Goff really aiming at Helen?

      You probably need to understand that the relationship between Chris Carter and Helen Clark is one of close friendship. Carter was approaching a friend, who also happens to be one of the shrewdest politicians this country has seen, to ask for advice in a difficult situation. That seems to me both natural and prudent.

  18. 18

    When you say
    “Either Phil Goff is getting appalling advice from his media advisers or he is ignoring good advice”
    I presume, as one of Labour’s most prominent media advisers, you actually mean he is ignoring good advice?
    In the context, this is actually quite important.
    You’ve made the advice you’re giving Labour public (which is an interesting move) and clearly Goff’s not following it!

    • You’ve made the advice you’re giving Labour public (which is an interesting move) and clearly Goff’s not following it!

      I am not a member of the Labour Party and have never been a member of the Labour Party, other than during the 1972 election campaign. I do not belong to any political party. I have no relationshop with the current parliamentary Labour Party and our company does not provide advice to anyone in it. My professional relationship with Labour effectively came to an end on the night Labour lost the 2008 election. Just to set the record straight, Sally.

  19. I cringed when I heard Goff.I think the whole affair was badly managed and I agree with your criticism.I think Labour need to address their Leader issue quickly as I dont see Goff having the ability to match Key(who in my view is a “Claytons” PM).The credit card spending needed addressing but putting in place a safeguard mechanism inside the party to ensure it never re occurs would be more acceptable ,rather than this childish behaviour.

  20. “…the relationship between Chris Carter and Helen Clark is one of close friendship. Carter was approaching a friend, who also happens to be one of the shrewdest politicians this country has seen… That seems to me both natural and prudent.”

    That’s fine BE, but why did Carter have to reveal it to the reporter? He surely knew how the media would respond to that. In my view, it is Carter who has shown the poor judgement, and I don’t blame Goff for wondering about his (Carter’s) sincerity.

    • That’s fine BE, but why did Carter have to reveal it to the reporter? He surely knew how the media would respond to that. In my view, it is Carter who has shown the poor judgement, and I don’t blame Goff for wondering about his (Carter’s) sincerity.

      All right. But I wouldn’t blame anyone who wondered about a party leader who wants to subject a former minister and one of his MPs to this sort of ritual humiliation when he has already formallly apologised. Not a lot of loyalty there!

  21. I accept there is truth in that, but it all started because Carter wouldn’t front up and apologise for his mistakes in the same way as the two other transgressors who had also been former ministers. Sure, he eventually apologised by way of a press release, but he then compounded the situation by spouting off to the reporter and undermining Goff in the process. There wasn’t much loyalty there either.

    The truth is: there was fault on both sides, but it would have been avoided if Carter had just fronted up with the verbal apology from the start.

  22. 22

    Goff would not have asked for a more meaningful apology unless he felt his caucus supported him. I maybe wrong, but I don’t think that Chris Carter is that popular amongst his own colleagues, unlike Shane Jones.

  23. “My understanding is that that would seem him relegated to the lowest position on the Labour benches, an effective end to his career as a Labour MP.”

    Therein lies Carter’s dilemma. Does he abase himself with an apology which we all know to be false in order to salvage his position in the Labour, but have to endure not only his own self loathing but the contempt of the wider electorate/

    Or does he sacrifice his career in order to retain a vestige of self respect?

    I have to be careful what I say since I do not want to join Merv in the sin bin, but I wonder whether there is something personal in this for Goff. He is first of all trying to show that he is a bold and decisive leader (shades of Jim Hacker). Secondly I suspect there is a war going on within the Labour Party between the ‘blokes and shed’ wing led by Goff and the Rainbow’s End wing and Mr Carter as they say is collateral damage.

    It will be interesting to see which way Carter will go at the press conference. I would like him to tell Goff to go and take a running jump, but I suspect the privileges that go with being a senior MP will win out and we will witness a nauseating and fulsome ‘mea culpa’.

    • Therein lies Carter’s dilemma. Does he abase himself with an apology which we all know to be false in order to salvage his position in the Labour, but have to endure not only his own self loathing but the contempt of the wider electorate/

      A very reasonable summation, with one exception. Regardless of recent events, Carter is a career politician. He believes in Labour and what it stands for and he has had and continues to have a very real commitment to Conservation and Education. It really isn’t about the priviliges. The dilemma you outline is real, but he has been put in that position by Goff. Like you, I would love to see him tell his Leader to get stuffed, but the stakes are far too high for that. And there is the possibility that Carter has actually come to realise that his level of overseas travel was unacceptable to the public. We’ll find out around midday today.

      By the way, Merv is not in the sin bin.

  24. Brian – from your former knowledge of the personnel involved, do you believe that there may be friction in the Labour caucus between those who support Phil Goff, and those who may still have some loyalty to their former leader?

    • Brian – from your former knowledge of the personnel involved, do you believe that there may be friction in the Labour caucus between those who support Phil Goff, and those who may still have some loyalty to their former leader?

      I genuinely don’t know. It’s possible.

  25. “…that Carter has actually come to realise that his level of overseas travel was unacceptable to the public”.

    If that’s the case, then, he’s as thick as two bricks. He truly is. And that’s why he’s so widely reviled. And that’s why the press is on his case. And rightfully so.

    All these overseas trips — and how has the country benefitted? Well, I’ll tell you: Sweet Eff-All!!

    On a ministerial trip, Carter’s supposed to have his “head down and bum up”. The only time his head’s been down, is when he’s been staring wide-eyed and mouth agape, drooling onto those fancy restaurant dishes. Oh, and when it’s on the fluffed-up pillow of his 5-Star hotel room; in blissful slumber, after being fully sated.

    “Carter is a career politician”. Can’t argue with that. And all the while, in Parliament, he’s done Jack Sh#t.

    That Herald pic sums up his true vocation and worth — delivering advertising flyers in letterboxes. I wouldn’t entrust him to deliver the Herald and Sunday papers, though. It would be beyond his capabilities.

    Carter’s midday press call, is sure to be a puke-inducing wretched affair. Be sure you’re close to the bathroom, come news time.

    • If that’s the case, then, he’s as thick as two bricks. He truly is. And that’s why he’s so widely reviled. And that’s why the press is on his case. And rightfully so.

      I’m sorry, Merv, but this is just a pathetically mindless piece of abuse. In future if you have any cogent argument to present, I’ll publish your comment but this sort of spew will get an instant delete.

  26. I wonder if the Dead Rat just swallowed by Chris Carter was well seasoned.

    This has not been a well handled episode. I always believed that the Labour Party would lose the next election. I suspect Goff may have turned a loss into a rout depending on memories.

  27. In future if you have any cogent argument to present, I’ll publish your comment but this sort of spew will get an instant delete.
    Good on yer Brian. Makes you wonder about Merv’s character.

  28. Te Atatu as an electorate seems to do things to its MPs. IIRC, that Labour stalwart Dr Bassett also used to represent it…

    • Te Atatu as an electorate seems to do things to its MPs. IIRC, that Labour stalwart Dr Bassett also used to represent it…

      That really is a cruel comparison!

  29. Even after todays “sincere apology” from Mr Carter I still think Mr Goff feels the pressure of his tenuous grasp on leadership and what was a kneejerk reaction.

  30. Te Atatu, as an electorate, is a reminder that you’ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the voter.