I leave the city for little more than a week and the place goes to pot. Apart from suffering the coldest snap since 1986 (a truly limp statistic if ever I’ve heard one), Sydney has been gripped by fear, loathing and hilarity in equal measure.
The reason behind this surge of public emotion is none other than socially conscious city Mayor, Clover Moore. Ms Moore has been on the periphery of politics for many years now during which time she has learnt absolutely bugger all about communicating with the commuters. Having won a majority on the podium in 2004, she set about focusing on the really important stuff. The stuff that makes 3 million Sydneysiders thank the Lord that someone has finally had the nerve to stand up for the people and make fundamental, sweeping and Churchillian-like change.
Clover, bless her cotton socks, decided she was going to pull the Christmas tree decorations in Martin’s Place and elsewhere in the City in the name of religious imbalance and cost management. That’s akin to the BBC pulling EastEnders because it’s likely to offend the residents of Chelsea. The media had a field day, particularly talk-back radio, and fortunately common sense prevailed before Santa decided to skip the entire country. The lights and fairy dust were reinstalled, the Christmas tree remained and, each December, a sparkly new one is erected in its usual spot, a beacon to the politically incorrect.
I’ll give her credit though. Clover’s managed to sit tight for a couple of years now, focusing on the mind numbing matters that make up the management of 3 million souls who are more than happy managing themselves. But 2 years is clearly her attention threshold. Last week she was at it again.
Out of the blue came a statement from the Mayor. It went something like this. “Dear Sydneysiders. The chances are we’re going to be attacked by a terrorist. More’s the point, that terrorist will likely have a nuclear device. Of course, there remains the possibility that this won’t happen, but that’s only because the nasty terror-chappy will be a victim of global warming and will probably die of thirst before he gets to us. Oh, by the way, please don’t be alarmed”.
Talk about panic-mongering. But Clover is smarter than her name suggests. Clearly a student of Consumer Demand school, she knows that before you can sell a solution, you must first present the need. The need was Armageddon. The solution was a Goodie-Bag. Yep, Clover was in the business of selling Goodie-Bags. But no ordinary Goodie-Bags filled with chocolate and Lucozade. The media release was unequivocal about what we needed: running shoes; a baseball cap; suntan lotion; a map; a torch; batteries; and a compass. That’s right, faced with imminent annihilation, Australians are encouraged to go rambling and catch some rays whilst they can. But what, you say, of those poor folk who are infirm or burdened with pets, children and other forms of unmanageable wildlife. Well fear not. Our Clover is on the case.
“Cat’s and other small pets should be placed in a pillowcase”, she helpfully continued.
Can you imagine the carnage? A bunch of unruly 7 year olds, swinging pillowcases jammed to the hilt with yeowling cats whilst Mum catches the last of the rays before the sun sets for the final time.
Either Clover knows something we don’t (about the imminent threat, not cats’ liking for Egyptian cotton) or she has been couped up in City Hall for far too long. What she doesn’t appear to have grasped however is the need to prepare her audience for a situation – which is ironic really because that is exactly what she was trying to do.
The fact is, people don’t like surprises. Surprises are unsettling. They provoke questions about the “what” and the “why”, rarely the “how”. And things can quickly get out of hand. Clover needed to provide the context and the rationale before skipping down Rucksack Alley and advocating the need to fill it with goodies that would otherwise be found in the school bags of the Famous Five. She needed to have a frank chat with her constituents, but to find a way to soften the blow. Telling people they need to prepare for their own funeral requires a comforting arm, not a mallet.
Of course all of this may have been a pretty amateur means of instilling the Fear of God into a quietly nervous society a few months before the (Federal) national elections, expected to be held late this year. Not surprisingly, the Australian media has latched on to this fact. And it continues to thrash the heavily bruised Mayor with its very own over-sized handbag. And so it should. Scaring the public into action is a big no-no at the best and worst of times. Trying to inject a hint of empathy by suggesting they bring their pillowcase enshrined moggy with them to calm the soul lacks insight, judgement and any hint of common sense.
Clover’s PR team needs to get back to their boardroom quick-sharp to start the hunt for ideas that might ressurect their boss’s reputation. But a small word of advice. A picture of a Nike-clad Clover cuddling her beloved cat is not one of them. Nor is a survey about pillowcases. I don’t care if 9 out of 10 owners think their cat prefers them. Clover needs help if she’s going to be taken seriously if and when trouble comes.