Bryce Edwards got to the core of John Key’s poor handling of the Ian Fletcher appointment on Firstline yesterday – reported in John Key: The honeymoon ‘is over’.
During an interview on RadioLIVE on Friday he let his frustrations rip, calling journalists “knuckleheads” over the reporting of the issue.
Dr Edwards says the Prime Minister’s outburst was a “crazy thing to say”.
“The media have been doing their job, and for him just to lash out at them I think just shows how rattled he is. It might immediately not be a big deal, and some people will respond favourably to him being strong about the media.
“But over time, I think this will damage him because he needs to keep the confidence of the media, and finally that honeymoon I think is over now – with the media and the public, to some extent – because it’s an issue of trustworthiness.
“People do trust him to be a straight-talker and to tell the truth, and people are a lot less clear that that’s what’s happened in this situation.”
One of Key’s biggest strengths has been that, especially for a politician, he has been widely seen as a straight talker.
Some have seen his fudging on this issue as justified disdain at the campaign of attack on him, it was to an extent an issue manufactured to try and trip him up.
But others will have lost some faith. A forked tongue is a forked tongue, no matter how justified some disgruntlement may be.
It’s how the politician handles things, and he’s handled it appallingly, and the consensus seems to be that he’s lied in Parliament and he’s lied to the media – at least, he hasn’t told the truth.
“The public don’t like that. The public don’t like their Prime Minister to be a liar.”
Key could not have been expected to tell the whole truth as soon as the issue was raised, but to avoid a bad look he has to avoid miffieness at political traps – he seemed to have learned something when he later said he would refuse to answer questions without being sure of his facts in the future.
But he has a fine line to walk on this, because his growing disconnect with the real world could become an increasing problem as his time in the power bubble takes it’s toll on his ordinary person touch.
Colin James also raises his respected eyebrows in today’s ODT column:
A single transgression isn’t a hanging offence. Key did not bring the democratic house down by phoning breakfast-companion Fletcher and inviting him to apply to be GCSB boss. Every cabinet transgresses once or twice.
But the price of purity is eternal vigilance. That is why, to Key’s progressive irritation and eventual irascibility, the media followed up Grant Robertson’s initial revelation by way of a question in Parliament and then probed Key’s evolving explanations and bit-by-bit ownings-up. The “knuckleheads”, as he called journalists on Friday (echoing his over-the-top “slippery slope” allegations over the John Banks “tea party” recording in the 2011 campaign), were doing their democratic job.
Key can arguably be forgiven his initial incomplete (and thereby misleading) response to Robertson because it was a trap question, tacked on to another about the GCSB and an example of the game-playing that has degraded question time. But he tacked on to his initial offhand response a gratuitous insult about Robertson’s intelligence, which diverted Parliament into points of order that ended in Labour MPs Trevor Mallard and Chris Hipkins being thrown out.
And, come the following Tuesday when he knew he would be questioned at the post-cabinet press conference, he could have been expected to have got the story straight. Not so. It went downhill from there as the knuckleheads sensed and documented another “brain fade”.
Again, a memory lapse is not a hanging offence. Even the famously retentive Clark had one from time to time. The issue is not a faultless memory but whether (a) memory lapses happen more often than one would expect of a Prime Minister on top of the job or (b) a memory lapse is convenient, that is, amounts to obfuscation.
Trust is hard earned, especially for a politician. And if some of that trust is lost it’s even hard to regain.
Key’s handling of the Fletcher appointment is a hiccup rather than a chunder, but if he doesn’t straighten up his public persona the bile will build in the guts of the nation.