John Key was the target of the most uniformly negative campign in New Zealand's political history. Labour went 100% negative with their TV ads – and all of them targetting Key as someone you can't trust – a nasty “hard right” person pretending to be moderate.
So what have we seen from John Key in the last few weeks:
- A transition package for those who lose their jobs firmly aimed at those with the most need (unlike Labour's that would have helped people couple on $200k)
- A commitment to flying a Maori flag next Waitangi Day
- Warm engagement at Ratana and Waitangi
- Despite suffering the worse assault at Waitangi of any PM, declares nothing will keep him returning
- Is a good enough sport to get up and dance with two drag queens at Big Gay Out
- Increase the minimum wage, allegedly against the recommendation of his own Labour Minister
- Calls for a report by the inspector-general of intelligence and security into why they kept monitoring Green MP Keith Locke
- An RMA reform package that doesn't even seem to have Labour opposed to it.
- Backs Helen Clark for a top UN job
- Backs a Green motion to have a parliamentary resolution supporting a pay freeze for MPs, so long as it is a year at a time.
Now people will debate each of these individual issues as to whether or not they agree.
But i'm fascinated by what it means at a more strategic level.
This makes it very hard for Labour to again repeat their tactics of demonising Key as some sort of two faced neo-conservative in drag.
In fact it even makes you wonder what Phil goff has to offer, apart from his daily whine that the Government needs to be doing more.
Labour can not credibly pledge to spend more than National – not with $50 billion of borrowing scheduled. I doubt they are stupid enough to campaign in 2011 on increasing taxes. They won't reverse the RMA changes etc etc.
Of course there will be some areas of difference, but to get a Government thrown out after one term you need to make a pretty compelling case that they are a disaster. Labour's real hope is that the economy will bomb so bad, National will get blamed for it. But what if by 2011 it is in recovery?
Now some on the right will say what is the point of National in Government if he does stuff that the left like. I would remind people that while Key is doing a lot of stuff people on the left like and approve of, he is also implementing National's manifesto almost line by line – tax cuts. RMA reform, freeze of bureaucrat numbers, spending scrutiny, tougher law & order policies, 90 day trial period, rolling back (a bit) of nanny state etc.
The other thing I am finding fascinating is how irrelevant Phil Goff seems at the moment. What I mean, is when is the last time you saw a column or even a blog post about Phil Goff. There's still scores and scores being written about Helen and her legacy.
Where are the excited posts about what a Goff led Government may mean? Where is the analysis about how Goff is doing? The research into what Goff stands for? The stories from former colleagues about how they think he will go.
To be fair to Goff, it is not his fault. Normally when you become a party leader you get a lot of coverage. But as he became Leader at the same time as John Key was negotiating his Government, there was minimal focus on Goff.
But maybe some of it is a lack of excitement over Goff. I can't imagine the Greens consider that they will get much from a Goff led Government. And many in Labour have despaired at his hard line on law & order issues. Now this does not mean they are disloyal or plotting against him. They are grateful he took on the leadership at a time when they need an experienced hand. There is no credible replacement for at least the next 12 – 18 months, and maybe not until after the 2011 election. But his challenge will be to convince people that he will offer something fresh and forward looking.