Communication is a core skill of good leadership. Just ask Sir John Key. So why do we keep hearing that Jacinda Ardern is "a good communicator, but ..."?
What's with the but? Usually, it means she's not good at something more important, which is economics. Often it means even more: That communication isn't really important or, worse, that she's conning us and getting away with it. People used to say the same about Key.
Simon Bridges knows how important good communication is. He's been saying things many people think should be said, but somehow manages to make himself look like a clown when he does it. Not a good communicator.
Unlike his mentor, John Key, who is – or was until now – the best model we have for the value of good communication. Key's opponents couldn't understand what voters saw in him and many were flabbergasted in 2014 when he won his third election.
Here's what people saw in him: He was a man who gave us confidence.
For a Government, public confidence is the most precious of commodities. In ordinary times, it allows businesspeople to take more risks, invest in plant and technology, open new markets, start new ventures, employ more staff. It allows householders to decide yes, we will buy the new fridge, take a bigger holiday, eat out more often. Confidence turns the wheels of the economy.
Key was good at building it because he knew how to reassure people. He made New Zealanders feel everything was fine. Don't worry folks, we understand your needs and we've got this. It was his genius.
One of the ironies of our political landscape today is that there are still some who see communication as a girly skill. Presumably, they never told Key that.
We're lucky right now to have a Prime Minister who knows how to sell the message, especially as it's a much harder message than Key ever had to sell. "We've got this" is a doddle compared with "We've got this, we think, but only if you all join in."
And yes, understanding how the economy works is also a core skill for a politician, especially if they're the Prime Minister.
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But being an expert in it? Not so much.
Again, just look at Key. He was supposed to be an expert. And yet His Government's signature economic goal was to produce a surplus budget, even though it meant entrenching poverty and rising carbon emissions.
There's a good argument that economic experts shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the prime ministership. The job demands the ability to fit economic skills into a bigger understanding of the world.
Mostly, the complaints about Ardern's grasp of the economy boil down to an alleged lack of sympathy for small business. Many businesses, large and small, have already fallen over; there's a very real and justified fear that tens of thousands more could follow.
The Government has not yet developed its full response to this. Wage subsidies, arrangements with banks and other measures are in place, and they help, but they don't help enough. There must be more.
Will there be? We'll know soon enough: Budget Day, May 14, is only two and a bit weeks away.
That's when we'll get the measure of Finance Minister Grant Robertson's economic skills, and by extension the PM's too. Will they get it right? Frankly, I don't know. Nobody does, yet. The National Party won't think so, and that's entirely legitimate: In election year, especially, it'll want to present an alternative vision.
The Budget will reveal how well the Government understands the needs of business, but it will not be limited to that. The bigger question is: Will its spending plans continue to be reactive, as they have largely been to date, or will they also look ahead?
The Green Party has proposed the Government spend $1 billion over three years to "rapidly scale up investment in people and nature", as party co-leader Marama Davidson put it. That's "thousands of people" employed in areas like pest and weed control, plant nurseries and wetlands management.
As Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said, "Investing in nature-based jobs can see meaningful jobs created more quickly than spending on big infrastructure like new motorways. Most of the funding will go directly to employing people – the tools needed for wetland restoration such as spades and seedlings are far cheaper than big excavators and asphalt."
That's important. The supposed "shovel ready" big roading projects will mostly take at least six months to get started and they're not, on the whole, big employers anyway. Conservation work is.
Are Ardern and Robertson listening? It's often said that economic and environmental goals don't always align. But when they do, as in the Greens' plan, what reason could there be not to proceed?
If you want to know if the PM understands the economy, and our future prospects as part of it, judge her against proposals like this.