Key’s Secret Weapon

Fran O’Sullivan writes on John Key’s secret weapon, or greatest ally, and declares it is Helen Clark.

I agree on this.  Look up until mid 2006 Clark’s political skills were superb. But since then she has made mistake after mistake after mistake. On almost every major issue she has made the wrong call, and then finally making the right call so late in the piece she gets no credit for it.  Now she is still very smart, very determined and only a fool counts her out. But she is not a bystander to Labour’s problems – she has caused many of them.

It was Clark’s inner circle, particularly her chief of staff Heather Simpson, who combined with the party central to plunder some $800,000 of taxpayers’ funds to help Labour win in 2005. Labour was ultimately forced to pay the funds back after a damning auditor-general’s report. The party has been on the back foot ever since.

She pilloried the Auditor-General and only agreed to pay it back as public opinion reached a crescendo.

But Clark didn’t learn. Her kitchen cabinet then put up the hapless former minister Mark Burton to introduce the obnoxious Electoral Finance Act which the Herald rightly labels “an assault on democracy”. It was another politically inept step which will continue to dog Labour right through this election year.

The Bill, as introduced, was that most incompetent law, arguably since WWII. How Burton and the Cabinet approved it is a mystery.  It was, as Nicky Hager said, something the Nazis could have come up with.  If the final version of the EFA was the version they introduced, then there would have been far less fuss.

Last week’s surreal run of events illustrated just how far she has become detached from the bedrock common sense which characterised her earlier years as prime minister. The events included Clark publicly shunning Labour’s major financial donor Owen Glenn at the opening of the University of Auckland’s new business school and subsequent labelling the Herald as a “Tory paper which had shown no charity to Labour during its 91 years of existence”.

Indeed.  I found it interesting that I don’t think even a single Govt supporter tried to defend her on the 91 years smear against the Herald. It really was pathetic and desperate.

Fran then suggests that if Clark doesn’t regain her mojo, maybe Cullen could be an interim Leader. He is more and more sorting out her messes, and was furious with her for suggesting in the Listener he may retire. She also highlights the recent exchange on wages:

Importantly, Cullen has Key’s measure. This was evident in Parliament where Key sat like a stunned mullet when Cullen took him to task over a newspaper report that quoted the National leader saying “we would love to see wages drop” during a conversation he held in Northland about the gaping wage differences between New Zealand and Australia.

Key’s comment does not make logical sense. But his propensity to mangle his syntax or wrong word himself gets him into trouble. This was evidenced at last year’s National Party conference with his embarrassing reference to a “Labour Government that I lead”.

She concludes:

Cullen will continue to ruthlessly mine Key’s lapses of brain-mouth co-ordination. These won’t matter too much if and when Key gets to be prime minister. Political journalists will just laugh with and at him, as they did with former National Prime Minister Jim Bolger when he came back from each foreign tour with a new accent. But in the crucible of an election year the stakes are much higher.

It will not have escaped Key’s notice that Cullen will also try to snooker National by unveiling costly but popular policies in his forthcoming budget.

Key needs a gameplan to deal with Labour’s dirt agenda and much more discipline on the verbal front. If he can get on top of his weaknesses the election is his. If not, Labour may yet have a chance.

To some degree the election is National’s to lose.  That is over simplifying, but National’s discipline will be key.

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