There was a brief media frenzy over what John Key knew and when he knew about the Sabin police investigation. It was legitimate raising eyebrows over some aspects of Key’s handling of it.
Labour leader Andrew Little had a quick kick when he was pushed into saying he thought Key had lied. Then he wisely backed off. It wasn’t a fight worth getting involved in, yet at least.
In his weekend column John Armstrong says Frenzy over Key’s knowledge of Sabin affair pathetic. He has a point.
Put to one side reform of the Resource Management Act. Ignore the Reserve Bank’s warning that the Auckland housing “bubble” is about to burst. Stop trying to picture the Greens without Russel Norman. Don’t fret about the safety of our soldiers when they eventually head for Iraq.
It truly beggars belief, but when it comes to assessing what is currently the most pressing issue or matter dominating New Zealand politics right now, a visitor from Mars, observing the copious amount of coverage of the subject, would have to pick the frenzy which has the media and some Opposition politicians pointing the finger at John Key and demanding he reveal exactly when he was first told of the “personal issues” which prompted one of his lesser-known MPs to suddenly resign from Parliament a week or so ago.
With discussion of the actual story being apparently suppressed by the courts Key’s opponents set about thrashing trivial aspects.
They tried the well worn and rarely successful approach – little political damage could be inflicted through the main story so they tried to nail key on trivial points, especially on his handling of the story.
It became the classic attempt at ‘gotcha’ politics.
There is one word that adequately describes this latest instalment in Key’s enemies’ long-running fixation with typecasting the Prime Minister as being nothing more than money merchant turned political huckster who, at times, enjoys a strange and somewhat strained relationship with the truth.
That word is pathetic.
There’s certainly a degree of patheticness alongside ongoing desperation to demolish Key.
Cue Labour’s revival of the old game of “what did the Prime Minister really know and when did he know it?”
The same old approach that has failed far more than it has succeeded. And the accumulation of failures contributed to the big failure in last year’s election.
Sure, there have been times when Key’s behaviour has resulted in him falling well short of being Saint John.
He has fumbled and bumbled on the Sabin issue but that was never going to be career ending.
Key, however, is not the only one who could usefully take a lesson from Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics. It is a lesson that Labour and other Opposition parties seem reluctant to take on board: pick your fights with Key very, very carefully.
Given the centre-left was well and truly thrashed by John Key-led National in last September’s election – not to mention the two previous ones – you would have thought it would have dawned on those occupying that part of the political spectrum that devoting time and energy to catching the Prime Minister out has not been very productive. If anything, it seems to be counter-productive, reinforcing Key’s standing, rather than undermining it.
The common sense involved in picking one’s fights with care is lacking further to the left. It sounds like The Standard will be thrashing this again with yet another post today.
That Key gets away with things that trip up other (and lesser) politicians is a source of immense frustration for the centre-left.
It is one reason why Key is not just disliked by Labour activists. He is detested. Finding the means of destroying his seemingly hypnotic hold on Middle New Zealand has become an obsession for Labour.
And more of an obsession with the further to the left activists who are so desperate to strike a mortal political blow they fail to see the futiluity in fights that don’t really matter beyond a short news cycle.
As it is, the Labour leader called Key a liar – a sign that he thinks he must confront him on the strongest possible terms.
Key expressed disappointment that Little was going down the same path as other Labour leaders in choosing to resort to personal denigration.
Key’s “disappointment” was actually delight. In calling Key a liar, Little had effectively vacated the moral high ground.
Little realised he had gone too far and refused to repeat the accusation when questioned subsequently.
Little has shown a number of thimes he has the perceptiveness to realise when he pushes things too far, and he has an ability to learn from these over-eggings.
The paucity of information has wiser heads withholding judgment on Key’s handling of the matter.
More information may emerge that damns Key sufficiently to strike a damaging blow or two.
But rehashing bugger all is self defeating. If much ado keeps being made about very little when something worth holding Key to account over comes along there’s a risk of it being lost in the ongoing noise.
In fact Key is adept at capitalising on these ground hog day attacks. When something more embarrassing comes up he just shrugs it off as ‘same old’.
Key’s opponents have instead seized what might have seemed an opportunity to castigate him which was, in fact, never there.
They have allowed themselves to be dragged into a dead-end street by the seductive siren calls of the media whose threshold for news is still set at a silly-season low and whose appetite for politics is determined more and more by its capacity to be a blood sport.
Expect the left to continue trying to squeeze blood out of a stone.
Occasional fights well fought are far more effective than numerous skanky skirmishes.
‘Gotcha’ frenzies usually end up doing little more than frustrating the frantics.