A week ago I was having coffee with some fellow politics nerds, scoffing at the idea that newly elected Labour MP Andrew Little could defeat Key in 2017. ‘The best he could hope for’, I pontificated, ‘Is to get up into the mid-30s. Force a coalition between Key and Winston Peters, and then remain as leader and win in 2020.’
A week is a long time, as the cliche goes. A lot has happened this week but in a big picture sense the Prime Minister appears to have lost his mind. Lying about the Gwyn report; texting Slater back; lying about it; lying about the lie. What the hell is going on with Key?
My theory is that he was hit with everything during the election campaign. The ‘Fuck John Key’ video. Dirty Politics. The Snowden/Greenwald stuff. The Dotcom allegations. Key denied everything (and in some cases he was probably right to do so). The wider public believed Key and backed him over his adversaries.
So from Key’s perspective the allegations this week are more of the same rubbish. More opposition lies. More media beat-ups. Hysteria. Hyperbole. Exaggerations. As he said to Slater in his text, so what if Jason Ede collaborated with Slater? Didn’t Goff collaborate with the media to leak the IGIS report? And who cares if Key isn’t totally honest about all of this nonsense. The public don’t give a shit about any of it. They’ll back Key and his version of events, just like they did back in the campaign.
Key might be right. He’s a very astute politician. On the other hand, the post-election environment is very different. There’s no prospect of a Kim Dotcom/Hone Harawira brokered coalition government. There’s no Cunliffe. There’s an unexpectedly effective Labour leader. The allegations are coming from his own Inspector General of Intelligence instead of a polarising figure like Nicky Hager. I don’t see how Key can know the public will back him on all of this. It seems like a huge risk.
During question time the government likes to jeer at the opposition about their obsession with ‘beltway’ issues. ‘No one cares!’ Catching Key out in a lie to Parliament is one reason why it’s worth persisting with this and getting him on the record. But also, too, I’ve been reading back through media coverage of the 2008 election campaign, and it’s amazing how ‘beltway’ National’s attacks were. Winston Peters’ donation scandal and the Electoral Finance Act were their big, big issues for the whole election campaign. There was policy stuff (tax cuts) but that was more peripheral. Voters might not have cared about the technical minutiae, but they cared that people in the government were acting unethically and lying to them.