I LIKE THOSE days when I can open my newspaper in the morning and find my target for the day before my first cup of coffee. Yesterday was one of those days. All it took was to flip the front page (I have no interest in hot air shops in Johannesburg) and there on page two I read that the government is to push forward a number of major policies from this month to raise Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's popularity ratings, which now stand at a record low. They cannot be that blatant about it, can they? Oh yes they can. According to one of those unnamed sources that this administration increasingly relies on to get its word across, Mr Tung's popularity ratings traditionally receive a boost after he delivers his annual October policy address. He is to delay it this year until January, however, and, if nothing is done, his popularity may continue to fall over the next four months. There you go. The medium is the message. The objective of good government is to make government look good. Move aside honesty. Popularity is now the best policy and time waits on no-one. Time therefore to get the pot of rosy paint out. Now of course I agree with Central Publicity (ahem, excuse me, Policy) Unit chief Lau Siu-kai that a 47.8 per cent approval rating for our man is 'not that bad' when set against what some world leaders achieve. In fact, given that the scores we listed range from a high of 65 per cent for United States President George W. Bush, a hothead bent on starting more wars than his last 10 predecessors combined, to a low of 25 per cent for South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, a Nobel Prize winning peacemaker, I would rather see Mr Tung low than high on these ratings. And, if you recall the Robert Chung affair a few years ago in which a Hong Kong University academic ran into trouble for publishing low approval ratings on Mr Tung, you might even think that more recent surveys on him have been, shall we say, 'considerate'. There are many ways to phrase survey questions. Perhaps his real approval rating is in fact lower. I have always left the possibility open since the Robert Chung affair. Let us leave this aside. The point about policy is that it is meant to have an element of consistency. Politicians are meant to work out and test their policies in the run-up to taking office and then to enact them without changing them much. I think there is something to be said for the alternative of make-it-up-as-you-go government but I would not call it policy. Yet what we seem to have in Mr Tung's policy speeches is new directions for government every year, the only difference this year being that we will have the policies before the speech. Now let me tell you what this does for your popularity ratings, Mr Tung. When you made your first policy speech I was crowded out of my perch at the Foreign Correspondents Club by an eager audience that wanted the television set turned up to full blare. The crowds dissipated from that point onwards until last year they were gone and the club's staff had no objection to my turning down the volume on that set so that I could get back to work without interruption. I was writing about pocket fluff that day, I believe, as there was nothing newsworthy on. So may I suggest that rather than delaying that speech until January you just drop it altogether and go for the traditional approach of letting your financial secretary set the tone for government with his budget in March. Money is the most pressing issue we face anyway with our fiscal deficit running at almost HK$70 billion a year. And, as a bonus, do you realise that this could help your popularity rating too?