Promises, promises

Is there such a thing as a politician who keeps too many political promises?

We might be finding out with the intent of NZ Prime Minister John Key to stick to a pre-election promise to use a “mixed asset model” (which sells shares in some state assets). The vast majority of voters dislike the concept, although it is unclear how well they understand it. John Key says that it was an election promise, so he not only has a mandate (see other blog) but is honour-bound to keep it.

To give John Key credit, keeping his election promises has been an article of professional faith for him. He has seen too many other politicians fatally lose credibility from not keeping their word.

He is right. Personal and professional integrity is closely linked to reliability. We trust, and like, people who do what they say they will do – and who stick to their beliefs.

He might be missing is that people, and politics, are inconsistent and complicated. The traits we value are entwined. We also respect people who listen, who change their mind on solid grounds, and who can admit being wrong. These things can trump keeping a promise. But it’s VERY hard to judge which trait they will value more at any one time.

Also at question here is whether the mixed ownership model was actually a “promise”. It was part of National’s election platform – but that was never because it thought the public wanted it.

Election “promises” are the things which are top-of-mind attractive to a very large number of voters. People are upset only when these sorts of ‘election-winning’ promises are not kept.

John Key says that people don’t understand the model very well – which indicates that it was not really a subject to which they paid much attention during the election.

So what John Key is left with is his determination to introduce the model because he believes it is a good thing for the country. Key’s route should be to earn voter respect for sticking to something he thinks is best, not something people voted for.

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