The Key scorecard

John Armstrong does a report card on John Key’s 1st year as Leader.

The pluses

High personal rating in preferred prime minister polls; retention of Don Brash-instigated lead over Labour in party standings; tackling the Prime Minister head on in Parliament; talking Bill English into accepting the deputy leader’s job and Gerry Brownlee into vacating it; Burnside speech on the “underclass”; instilling discipline into National’s fractious caucus; shifting National towards centre without screams coming from party’s right; developing informal relations with the Maori Party and the Greens; avoiding public spat with rebel MP Brian Connell.

The minuses

Failing to topple Helen Clark as preferred prime minister; not getting the better of the Prime Minister more frequently in Parliament; Labour highlighting his shifting positions on Iraq; bungle over GPs’ fees; no sign of improving relations with NZ First; the burglary of his Auckland home.

I wouldn’t call the first one a minus, as he did top her in some polls, but also because it is relatively meaningless.  Also I call refusing to snuggle up to Winston as a huge plus 🙂

Armstrong also has a companion article.

Key has not come through unscathed. He rattled Labour’s complacency early on by embarrassing its social conscience with his depiction of an “underclass”. He surged up the preferred Prime Minister ratings. Labour tried ignoring him. When that did not work, Labour attacked him. Labour’s constant chipping started to slow Key’s bandwagon. The balance tilted further following the series of gaffes by Key and colleagues over Iraq, doctor’s fees and the partial sale of state-owned corporations.

National lost traction. It has now regained it thanks to Labour’s woeful handling of the vexatious Electoral Finance Bill and its capitulation to the necessity of tax cuts.

Essentially you have two choices: try and keep above the transitory and petty political battles and try to set your own agenda, or, grab whatever is going for the sake of publicity.

The first option can see a leader get desperate and resort to stunts. The latter can see a leader look small-minded and lacking the big picture. Even worse is to fall somewhere in between and disappear altogether.

As a case in point, Clark in Opposition would have been all over something like the Electoral Finance Bill. Key has largely left it to Bill English. That has been deliberate so that Key is not contaminated by being part of an argument from which no one is likely to emerge in positive light.

Indeed it is deliberate strategy – the Deputy is the traditional “attack dog” while the Leader does the more positive aspirational stuff.

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