Why did Norman go nasty?

Andrea Vance writes at Stuff:

Norman had a comprehensive list of examples to back his assertion that “something in rotten in the state of New Zealand politics…something is rotting in the Beehive.”

He cited: the SkyCity deal; Hobbit employment law changes; the sacking of Environment Canterbury councillors; dumping of proposed MMP changes; a ban on deep sea drilling protests at the behest of oil companies; and recent disabled carers’ legislation.

Let’s be very clear. It is absolutely appropriate opposition parties attack the Government for decisions they don’t like. I do wish they would stop lying about deep see protests being banned. They are not. All that is banned is protests within 500 metres of a commercial operation, as the right to protest doesn’t trump the right to do your lawful business.

Anyway absolutely legitimate to attack the Govt and the PM for decisions you dislike.

But the 20-minute address marked a departure from the Green’s particular brand of play-the-ball-not-the-man-politics. Norman launched a personal attack on Key, painting him as a Muldoon-style bully. There was also a snide reference to Key’s personal wealth: he is “irritated if we are not all grateful for him generously agreeing to be PM.” And he trashed Key’s trademark genial disposition.

“The next time you see smiling, …he’s smiling because he’s giving favours to his mates while undermining your democracy,” he said.

What Norman is doing here is trying to paint Key as an evil person. He’s trying to make people think that Key actually hates ordinary New Zealanders and just pretends to be friendly when he is smiling.

It is ridiculous, as anyone who knows John Key would testify. John Armstrong writes:

Muldoonist? John Key? cannot be serious.

The Green Party co-leader’s assertion that the “divisive and corrosive” behaviour exhibited by the leader of the National Party is akin to that of his most notorious of predecessors is certainly headline-grabbing. It also verges on the ludicrous. Sir Robert Muldoon was without question our most belligerent, abrasive, polarising, dictatorial and vindictive politician.

The fear and loathing he was capable of generating within his own ranks – let alone in the wider world of politics – was summed up by a caucus colleague who said he went to Muldoon’s funeral only so he could be assured the lid on the coffin had been nailed down properly.

I knew Muldoon, unlike Norman. Norman only moved to New Zealand five years after Muldoon died. I can’t think of an MP who is more different to Muldoon in personality, than John Key.

This is shown in Key’s response to Norman:

Prime Minister John Key was remarkably restrained in his response to Greens co-leader Russel Norman’s personal attack on Saturday. Dr Norman called Mr Key corrosive and said he is ”irritated if we are not all grateful for him generously agreeing to be PM”. Through a spokeswoman, Mr Key said the Government is ”focused on the things that matter – like building a strong and stable economy with more, better paying jobs to help New Zealand families”.

I can’t recall the last time John Key did a nasty personal attack in a set speech. Making a joking reference to Labour and Greens as the devil-beast is not a personal attack. It is a political one.

Here’s a challenge. What”s the worst thing John Key ever said about Helen Clark? To the best of my memory he attacked her Government, not her. In fact once he beat her, he helped get her a job at the UN.

I think people can decide for themselves who has decided to be corrosive. Now I’m not complaining about it. I think it is good that people are now able to see what the Greens are prepared to do, in order to get into power.

UPDATE: Karl du Fresne, who was a journalist under Muldoon blogs:

Russel Norman’s speech to the annual conference of the Greens, in which he compared John Key with Robert Muldoon, rated a 10 for desperation and a zero for credibility. …

Norman arrived in New Zealand from Australia in 1997, and on the basis of his speech I would guess that’s about as far back as his knowledge of our political history extends.None of the prime ministers we’ve had since Muldoon could be compared with him, for which we should be grateful. He was a vindictive bully who cleverly exploited the politics of fear and division, and never more so than during the 1981 Springbok tour.

In fact I would suggest that in terms of personality, Key is the least like Muldoon. Anyone old enough to remember the political unpleasantness of the late 1970s and early 80s – which probably excludes a lot of Green voters – would have reacted with astonishment to Norman’s bizarre attempt to compare the two men.
Muldoon’s default facial expression was a snarl. Key’s is a grin (or if you want to be harsh, a smirk).

Arguably, the politician who most closely resembles Muldoon, and who served his apprenticeship under him, is Winston Peters. Like Muldoon, Peters has a penchant for demagoguery. But even the New Zealand First leader falls far short of Muldoon’s menacing intolerance of dissent, though it might have been a different story had he ever won power.

That’s the Winston Peters that the Greens are preparing to go into Government with?

There are only two possible explanations for Norman’s attack on Key. The first is that, as postulated above, he knows nothing about our modern political history (not that that stops him from promoting himself as a credible alternative leader). The second, which is even more worrying, is that he knows the comparison between Key and Muldoon is absurd but ran with it anyway. Perhaps he senses the Greens’ momentum is slipping and is prepared to resort to extreme measures to get some traction.

I think it is the second.

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