On John Key: “it’s an issue of trustworthiness”

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.

4 Comments

  1. Darryl

     /  April 9, 2013

    Well all I will say is that everything I have ever read from Bryce Edwards is coloured red, and I would be happy to call him a Knucklehead, freely. The way John Key has been treated I don’t blame him one little bit, for letting them know what he thinks. Especially when you look at the likes of Shearer and Robertson. You never see them go into Print with the positive things that are going on, it is all very personal venom about John Key. Play the game NOT the man.

    • I agree that Robertson was playing the man, by Key has to play back with as straight bat, or else he get’s dragged down to the underarm level as he did on this.

      • Darryl

         /  April 9, 2013

        The Labour/Greens have been discrediting John Key on anything he says, doesn’t matter what he says. I see (Print Money) Norman is having a go this morning, quote: Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said Mr Key’s attempt at international diplomacy was “embarrassing”. (absolute rubbish)
        Simply just a farce from someone like Norman. If there is anyone that embarrasses me it is Shearer Robertson and Norman/Turei. NZ would be a lot worse off with Knuckleheads like this. Who would I trust?????? I don’t need to answer that question.
        The thing is John Key has not retaliated to these knuckleheads, until just recently, he has just kept his cool, but all of us get fed up in the end when you see who it is throwing mud. Different if you can offer an alternative, but they don’t have any sensible policies, and if they had any brains they would concentrate on the economy. I see the IMF have praised NZ.

  2. Joe Bloggs

     /  April 9, 2013

    Darryl’s on the money. The MSM have collectively and individually behaved in very knucklehead-like ways over the past several months, targetting Key and leaving Shearer unchallenged, despite the seriousness of Shearer’s misdeeds.

    Unfortunately Key has laid himself open to this playing of the man rather than the issue, with his various brainfades – none of which are serious in and of themselves, but which collectively add up to a display of vulnerability which the left are exploiting as hard as they can.

    We’ve even seen Sir Bruce Fergusson climbing on the “Kick Key” bandwagon with his extraordinary outburst reported this morning, claiming that Key was “smoking dope” when Key said there were “issues that were there under Mr Ferguson and others and that shows you that just having a military or defence background actually hasn’t delivered the robustness of that organisation that New Zealanders would expect”.

    It is beyond me quite how Fergusson can claim that when the Kitteridge report reveals a series of failings within the bureau’s management and culture over the past decade during his time at the helm.

    As I’ve said before Fergusson is playing a politicking game here, full of smoke and mirrors to take attention away from his own mismanagement as spy chief, and the press is letting him do so with impunity.

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