Different sorts of winners

The favourite game at the moment is trying to pick who are the winners and the losers from the smacking compromise. And later in this post I’ll play that game, by saying both Key and Clark are winners, but in very different ways.

But first it is important to note that what matters to the 10% or so of the population who study politics furiously, is not the same as the other 90% for whom the rather cynical “perception not reality counts” is somewhat true. People like me can say it’s still a pretty damn stupid bill, but to most of the public they will just be very pleased that Helen and John put aside politics to do a compromise which makes it sound less likely parents will be prosecuted for light smacking. And the fact the Police have welcomed the amendment lends to that perception. Again I can point to the concern I have about how CYFS will use this law, but it is not a concern of your average parent.

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Now one should also give kudos to both Clark and Key for their trust in each other. As the Dom Post says, Clark risked a fair bit in making the approach to Key. He could have rushed out a PR accusing the Govt of panicking and coming up with a half hearted meaningless compromise. Likewise Key risked the backlash to any deal. It’s not a bad thing the PM and the Opposition Leader could trust each other to work in good faith. And I suspect neither will suffer electorally for it.

But back to winners and losers. People need to remember the difference between a tactical victory and a strategic victory.

If I have to pick a tactical winner, I would say Helen Clark. She was facing somewhat of a nightmare. Low opinion polls, some very unhappy MPs on this issue (see Mitchell on how unhappy Duynhoven was), and the very real fear that next week’s budget would only remain in the headlines until the next smacking debate day in the House.

The Government has not been driving the political agenda for the last year, and if their budget had sunk, they might have gone into election year very weak. This move gives them an opportunity to use the budget to regain political initiative. And Clark managed to find an amendment which she can claim isn’t inconsistent with what she wanted.

But as a strategic winner, I point to John Key, and so do most of the columns I have seen, Transtasman, and the TV reports. Why? Because Labour’s 2008 election strategy just took a beating. When you are going for your fourth term, it is hard to win it on new policy ideas (as Jordan has blogged about). You win it by scaring the crap out of the public about the Opposition. And you won’t be able to demonise John Key now as cancerous and divisive and corrosive.

Add to that John Key gets credit for calling for the compromise in the first place, he got to look absolutely Prime Ministerial, and a growing list of achievements one has managed despite not even being in Government (in case no one has noticed the minor parties with a supportive National have started to influence the legislative agenda significantly). There is no better place to be in election year wanting to be PM, than already looking the part.

Clark needed the tactical win badly and she got it. But Key’s strategic win will I suspect be of more lasting value.

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