Hooton on Smacking Compromise

Matthew Hooton backgrounds the smacking compromise, and what it means politically.

Panicked, the government spent March prancing about, trying to make it go away. It attacked parents who were concerned about the bill – the prime minister smeared them as thrashers and beaters, reminiscent of her vilifying the hikoi marchers as “haters and wreckers”. She considered adopting the bill as a government measure, or forcing it through under urgency, but she couldn’t get the support.

Faced with the inevitability that Clark would move, Key had two options. He could make the most of it, and position himself as the equal of the nation’s leader, or he could risk being associated with the bill’s more rabid opponents, who were advancing towards the steps of parliament. The latter was never a real option for National’s cosmopolitan new leader.

In allowing the compromise, Key threw away an opportunity for his backbenchers to have a field day against Labour and he’s given Cullen an opening to promote whatever inspiring initiatives are in his Budget – but it is doubtful he gave away much more. For all the heat they generate in the short run, conscience issues don’t dominate election campaigns.

What Clark has given up is much more important – the ability to ever again demonise Key as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the son of Ruth Richardson, the pawn of the religious right.

Such charges – however dishonest, even ludicrous – were to have been the central theme of her re-election strategy next year. Smearing Key was essential to Clark to allow her to use the same crude fear tactics and “Don’t Put It All Risk” slogan with which she so successfully slayed Don Brash in the final week of the 2005 campaign.

Key has acted on his own conscience and judgement. He has done the right thing, and he has been politically smart at the same time, leaving Labour’s planned 2008 election strategy in tatters. He is on his way to the prime ministership. Those who can’t stomach the new, modern National Party he is building can always go and vote for Act.

Comments (10)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment

%d bloggers like this: