Picking your fights versus a ‘gotcha’ frenzy

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.

Leave a comment


  1. kiwi_guy

     /  7th February 2015

    The problem is its a corrupt ex copper politician enjoying the protection of the judiciary and the government. Throw in a “market forces” tabloid press suffering ADD.

    So yeah that makes it a tough maybe impossible battle.

    • Tough, yes. Impossible, no. It means doing your homework, basing your argument on facts and picking the fights that matter.

      Perpetual bickering puntuated by the occasional worthwhile barb just looks like perpetual bickering to most people.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  7th February 2015

      Rubbish. The charges have been laid and will be heard in court and judged true or false as normal. The court will then decide who if anyone needs ongoing secrecy. The politicians will have no influence over that process.

      • kiwi_guy

         /  7th February 2015

        LOL, take the red pill mate.

        Having the attribute of “prominent NZer” seems to be the only thing that matters in the Land of the Long White Coverup.

        Like that other ex National MP, Old Boy Rugby connected, serial sexual deviant who enjoys permanent name suppression despite one of his victims going public:

        “****** was initially charged with the more serious offence of indecent assault. Then for some inexplicable reason police and the crown prosecutor saw to it that the charge was reduced to the lesser offence of performing an indecent act, to which ******** then (so we, the gullible public, are led to believe), agreed to plead guilty. With the case apparently done and dusted and under the cover of his name suppression ******** then immediately appealed the matter and quietly had the conviction quashed.

        All this despite ********* having pled guilty to the lesser charge, and of course ***********’s name suppression continued obviously unchallenged by anyone, including the crown and or the local media; being extended again on appeal, and again on the successful conclusion of that appeal – that order subsequently now numbering amongst the now infamous permanent.”

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  7th February 2015

          You are telling us the conviction was quashed on appeal and complaining he has name suppression?

          Well, welcome to the real world of innocent until proven guilty.

  2. All dedends on what the accusations are. Ritual satanic slaying of a child? (and some have come close to suggesting this) Then Key is gone. Otherwise his handling of the situation has been fine.

    • kiwi_guy

       /  7th February 2015

      I’m not sure if I can state what the charges are on here, but your example is not far off…

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  7th February 2015

      Nope, first it will depend on what if anything he is convicted of and second whether Key acted in any way culpably. Hard to see any case being made for the second requirement.

  3. SteveRemmington

     /  7th February 2015

    Face it, JK will ride this out not because he has handled it well but because the alternative is crap. Until Labour understands we understand what you are saying but we don’t like how you say it they will be always be considered also rans.

  4. Kittycatkin

     /  7th February 2015

    I am bored with the Sabin thing and wish that the press and Labour would stop going over and over the same old stale story. Yawn,

  5. Mike C

     /  7th February 2015

    I’m very tired of all of this shit from the Labour Party. Do they think we are all “Dumb-Arse-Numb-Nuts” ???

  6. RaeS

     /  7th February 2015

    I am sick to death of National party supporters wingers who only to happy to gloss over serious issues emanating from the PMs office, just how far will they let things slide before they express any concern.
    Think I might start referring them as the cut-off-the-nose-to-spite-the-face-brigade

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  8th February 2015

      Die happy then. You know you love to have something to moan about. Anything will do. The more utterly trivial the better.


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