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Headline: A Matter of Whether John Key is Credible

Analysis by Selwyn Manning.

New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key.
New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key.
WITHIN NATIONAL’S STRATEGY TEAM there is an acceptance that the facts revealed in the book, Dirty Politics, is chewing away at the party’s popular support.

What National now fears the most is the expectation that all correspondence between the Prime Minister John Key’s advisor Jason Ede and Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater will be released.

That raw data (emails between Cam Slater and Jason Ede – a close advisor to the Prime Minister, a member of John Key’s inner circle of Beehive staff, and more latterly for the National Party) has its campaign strategists fearing the worst.

But the party’s biggest fear is, that once released, that data will once and for all destroy the credibility of John Key, his leadership style, and cause the public to question whether the Prime Minister can be taken at his word.

If the public forms that opinion, National’s ability to provide stable government, and honourable governance practice, is exhausted.

National Party sources say: to get National back on track, National’s campaign manager Steven Joyce, late on Wednesday, ordered that all MPs, candidates, and those door-knocking for National, not to discuss the Dirty Politics book with anyone.

By Friday, the message had become, talk up the economy, focus on the economy, talk up the expectation of tax cuts.

Why? Because National’s private polling data, according to sources, had revealed that National is seen by the majority of those polled to be the best at handling the economy.

That polling data suggested, among those polled, that National outstrips Labour two-to-one on that issue alone.

Even when news of economic failure is considered, on fiscal incompetency, on the mountain of Government debt which has been ratcheted up under National’s reign, those polled still express a belief that National is the best party to dig New Zealand out of the deep-debt-ditch that National itself has created.

Meanwhile, throughout this week, National’s campaign team has been busy preparing to unleash policy discussions on the economy, the handling of the economy, on taxation, tax cuts.

National has been chomping at the bit to get the discussion ‘off the Prime Minister’s credibility’ and back onto message.

Every day John Key is left standing alone, talking to journalists:

  • about whether he lied;
  • trying to convince the nation what he says he really said;
  • attempting to explain whether he was or was not briefed personally by the Director of Security Dr Warren Tucker about a release of intelligence information to hit-blogger Cameron Slater;
  • trying to explain that when he said in 2011 that he was briefed… the words “me” and “I” and “he” etc etc etc didn’t mean that ‘he’ personally was told but that his office was told.

And when the inevitable question follows: ‘Well who was briefed by the Director of Security? John Key replies that ‘no’ his chief of staff wasn’t told, and no he cannot say who was told, if anyone – all of that exhausts an opportunity for the National Party to get back on message and talk up the economy.

National sees discussion on the economy as its savior, while realising it is weak when explaining issues of John Key’s credibility.

It has discovered that when the public is polled on child poverty, education, health, foreign affairs, the environment, even security and law and order, the public is favorable to consider what the lead opposition bloc parties, Labour and the Greens, have to say.

National’s plan now is to focus on housing, to attempt to erode Labour’s solution to the Auckland housing crisis.

On Monday morning, National will visit the Weymouth housing development in South Auckland. On Monday afternoon, National will visit the Hobsonville housing development north of Auckland. Its message will be to connect housing policy to the economy and squeeze out the opposition parties.

Intelligence is vital. This week, the regularity of National’s polling has climbed to fever-pitch proportions. It is polling extensively every day.

That polling has revealed, according to sources, a shift in public mood.

Last weekend, the public seemed to have reserved its opinion on whether John Key, members of his staff, and members of his National Party, were really directing a network of shadowy characters – providing them with information designed to destroy their opponents.

By Friday, that polling was showing people had begun to change their minds, they had begun to believe John Key was covering stuff up, that his assurances were sounding hollow, and more people even considered it likely that he was lying to them.

Door knockers reporting back to their campaign handlers, who in train were feeding that information back to their campaign data crunchers, had identified a pattern where people all over the country were beginning to change their minds. It is still too early for National to accurately discover the true extent of its damage, but it fears it may end up driving its popular support down below 45 percent. Some say anything below 47 percent means it will no longer be able to govern.

More concerning for National is this fact: the Prime Minister’s credibility and leadership has become the focus pursued by sensible journalists at this stage of the election campaign.

And even more concerning for it, is the matter of John Key’s credibility that has also become the key issue consuming the minds of voters as they prepare consider how to express their ticks on Polling Day.

Credibility is perhaps the most unexpected element so far in this campaign. That John Key’s credibility has been questioned is most surprising. For National, it was the most prized jewel in the Team Key treasure chest. But now it has become perhaps its weakest link.

After all, John Key is responsible for the conduct of all those working within his office. Is he serving the public interest in not discussing what should be done with key advisors like Jason Ede? Should John Key explain and detail his own discussions with Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater, and state on record what those conversations were about?

John Key now stands alone as the leader of his Government, the leader of the National Party, the person responsible as the Minister in charge of Ministerial Services – the employer of all those men occupying Beehive offices under the names of an array of ministers. Some of them, it has come to be known, have been practicing the dark art of deceitful politics in John Key’s name.

Should they be hung out to dry or spared? It is John Key alone who can save them, or condemn them all.

But, in reality, John Key is the last man standing, he speaks directly to the reasonably minded New Zealand voter. From this platform they will be asked to judge for themselves whether their Prime Minister is credible… or not.

Game on, or game over, they will be the judge.