Why not give prospective prime ministers a month each in office to see if we like them? asks Annemarie van Gaal.
I’m fascinated by the run-up to the general elections. A beauty contest for prime ministers is what it is but with a difference: the beauty queen isn’t going home with you while a prime minister is going to stick around for the next four years.
All candidates running for the top job make promises but the way they are really trying to distinguish themselves is by letting us in on their moods and quirks. We see them merrily handing out leaflets, having a relaxed cup of coffee during the morning talkshow, lending a sympathetic ear to a troubled voter, looking reliable during interviews and wearing an appropriately fierce look during a debate with fellow candidates.
Some even go as far as letting themselves be filmed taking an al fresco shower at a travellers’ camp, declaring it to be ‘wonderful’ through chattering teeth.
But with every appearance I ask: but what are you really like? How can we tell whether you’re going to be a good prime minister? Hardly anybody reads the party manifestoes so all we have to go on is each candidate’s bikini parade.
This reminds me of something that happened in the last century. In the early eighties, Coca-Cola was very worried about its worsening position in the soft drinks market. In 1972, 18% of fanatical soft drinks’ fans chose the brand while only 4% preferred Pepsi. But at the beginning of the eighties, Coca-Cola brand loyalty was down to 12% while Pepsi’s had soared to 11%. Coca-Cola was on the brink of being ousted as market leader.
The final blow came when Pepsi started its ‘Pepsi Challenge’ campaign. In the commercial, loyal Coca-Cola drinkers were asked to take a sip from two glasses, one filled with Coca-Cola, the other with Pepsi.
A staggering 57% of Coca-Cola drinkers turned out to prefer Pepsi. Coca-Cola suffered a crisis of doubt about the taste of its product and started tinkering with it, and eventually, after numerous taste tests, launched a new taste only to see it bomb completely.
The only reason why the taste adjustment went wrong is that the people who tested the new Coca-Cola only had one sip from each cup. One sip is different from drinking a whole bottle. Often one sip tastes good but not a whole bottle.
If a sip is all you’re having, consumers will go for the sweeter product. But if you make them drink the whole bottle they would probably be sick. Pepsi is sweeter than Coca-Cola and therefore it scored higher in the one-sip test. If each person had been given a whole crate of the stuff to take home, the results would have been very different.
The same goes for our candidates, with the exception of Mark Rutte. We see them doing the right thing at the right moment but it’s only a one-sip test.
Choosing a prime minister from a group of people who have never been prime minister before is like participating in a blind taste test of Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Roemer and Samsom are doing well in the one-sip department but what if we had to down the whole bottle?
The next time we have a caretaker cabinet it might be a good idea to organise a ‘Prime minister Challenge’, with each candidate in charge for a month.
He would not make major decisions (no caretaker cabinet does) but would be seen in action every day for a month, handling the difficult discussions as well as the easy bits. It would be an interesting experiment and would save the Dutch from having to do a blind one-sip test.
Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and head of publishing company AM Media. She is also a writer and television personality.
This article was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad