Wiping a tear from my eye after hearing this heart-breaking tale of woe, I then heard how at next year’s general election social media will be a really important way for this particular member of Parliament’s party to talk to young people and others in our communities who use these new-fangled channels.
I thought that if this Parliamentarian is representative of his colleagues, it’s no wonder that politicians attract similar levels of trust and respect as real estate agents. The communication method he was outlining is entirely consistent with what is an endemic “announce and defend” method of engagement used by New Zealand politicians. Announce and defend, combined with lots of talk and little listen, I believe doesn’t work with any communication channel and it definitely won’t work through social media.
The trick to great engagement is listening. The same senior member then said he was going to run a competition with us, his audience, to see who our preferred political communicator of the year was. He rattled off a list of worthy contenders and made his choice. While it was entertaining, that was where any “discussion” ended.
His winner, by the way, was the late Parekura Horomia who passed earlier in the year. His tangi at Tolaga Bay drew more than 10,000 mourners. I would suggest that the level of respect many people felt for Parekura, irrespective of their political biases, was because he was a great listener.
More effective than “announce and defend” I believe is “discuss and decide”. The latter is a process that seeks agreement on whether there is a problem to be solved or an opportunity to be grasped, prioritises the issue, identifies options and debates the merits of those BEFORE reaching a solution. It involves engaging with groups wider than members of political parties and opinion polling.
Another example the Senior Member used, without intending to, about the power of “discussing and deciding” was the recent debate had in Parliament about marriage equality legislation, now passed into law. This debate was not based on political party dogma, and community groups both in favour of and opposed to change had worked hard to make sure that their views were heard by elected members in advance of the vote. While there are still some people who believe the wrong decision was made, most New Zealanders are fully supportive of the outcome and celebrate the erosion of another barrier to equality and justice in our society.
While some people align with political parties for whatever reason, many voters make the decision about how they will cast their votes based on a party’s manifesto. While determining that manifesto is currently the preserve of a select few, imagine how many more votes could be gained if the wider public was to be involved in its development. Young people and others may jump at a chance to do that. Social media channels could be used to make meaningful, ongoing connections.
However I don’t think that such a constructive and inclusive environment is likely to happen any time soon. Meanwhile we’ll just have to listen to politicians talk at us, or choose not to. If they think we’re not listening or don’t understand what they’re saying, they’ll probably just talk louder and more slowly. That should work a treat on Facebook and Twitter.