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Opinion: The Left's 'Nightmare on Key Street'

Tuesday 5 Mar 2013 12:20 p.m.

The Left has found that nothing has stuck to 'Teflon John' this year

The Left has found that nothing has stuck to 'Teflon John' this year

It is six weeks into the political year, and the Opposition finds itself waking up in those all-too familiar cold sweats.

For Labour, the Greens, Hone Harawira (and to a lesser extent, Winston Peters) the recurring bad dream is all too real: John Key is back on top again.

Yes, Key is in control once again - at a massive 51.4 percent in the 3 News/Reid Research poll.

And all of a sudden, after over two years of hard political graft, asset sales are through - and today begins the advertising blitz and, no doubt, huge interest in the shares.

As such, Key would have slept like a baby last night on the plane to South America for his trade jaunt.

He has got back his vice-like grip on the centre voter that had started to loosen after the shocker he had last year.

He has gone from potentially losing to a Labour/Greens coalition in December to being able to govern alone in March.

Most crucially, he has got back momentum.

That will scare the Left. It is what I call ‘The Left's Nightmare on Key Street’. After four years, the Left still don't know what to do about ‘Teflon John’.

I've heard all sorts of reasons for this - the spin from the Left has been that it's about summer, and it's been a good summer - and people feel good. Er, No.

The reason for Key's four-point boost in our poll is more simple than that - he has won the opening stanza. Let's look at how:

Opening Photo-Op

Key came back early and started with a photo-op in Antarctica - a bog-standard easy hit for him.

Brutal early start

He got Parliament going a bit early and axed two Ministers - another hit, but this time a surprise and not so easy. Grabbed voter attention. David Shearer's reshufffle, (which had a brutal element too) came much later. Axing Ministers is huge, this was big for Key in an ‘I mean business’ way.

Novopay/Hekia

Key had problems here - so he ‘Joyced’ them. The Joycification of Novopay seems to be working - so far.

State of the Nation

Key had the first ‘State of the Nation’ speech, essentially stole Labour apprenticeships policy with a cheaper Joyce-ified version, ready to head Shearer off at the pass with his speech.

In the end Shearer didn't announce anything at all, let alone about skills, preferring to re-fire Labour's popular housing policy but with no details on what buyers will get or where.

Notable that both issues have faded, slight points victory to Key/Joyce for being cunning and trying to close off a hole.

Waitangi

Shearer tried to appeal to Pakeha mums and dads sick of the protest element at Waitangi by saying a New Zealander of the Year should be named as a way of changing the focus on Waitangi Day.

Key took this up a notch with a thinly-veiled attack on Titewhai Harawira and company, a major dog-whistle with much more resonance in people's living rooms.

Key left this until the last-minute before he took off home - but none of the people he was appealing to would blame him for that.

Refugees

Key managed to take in 150 refugees off boats from Australia every year without overly annoying his voter base. How did he do that again? 

The liberal Left were up in arms that we don't take enough refugees as it is but the liberal Left will never vote for Key in a million years.

The Pokies Deal

The Opposition waited months for the Auditor-General's report to come out. Key gazumped them by ‘clearing’ himself before the report came out in what was essentially ruthless and high-stakes forward spin.

Key had the one line in the report he needed and boy did he use it. Both Labour and Greens were left playing catch-up. In fact the Greens got so obsessed by catch-up they forgot there was a game on and started complaining that Key had leaked on the Auditor-General.

Now that's what I call a ‘beltway’ issue - of interest to people within one block of the Beehive and no further. To my mind, politicians complaining about leaks and spin are playing the tiniest political violins in the world.

But Labour too became obsessed by a beltway issue, attacking Key over telling Parliament Sky City had talks with TVNZ about buying land, when they didn't, he just thought they did. Crime of the Century? No.

And that was the end of the Auditor-General's report. Now, National gets on with the deal - expect to see a glitzy advertising campaign and designs, and hundreds of workers on site by the election campaign in 2014.

Hobbit

Again, some murky dealings exposed. But overall, most of the public are just pleased to see the movie made and agree with Peter Jackson that the Australian unionist Simon Whipp was a snake.

Key and National would have been happy with the way this played out.

Asset sales

This was the big Kahuna. The Government won in court. No need to bang on here about how important this was to Key. The cherry on the top for him.

Kim Dotcom

Dotcom has gone quiet, or quieter than usual anyway. He just lost in the Court of Appeal, Key will be toasting the fact the German is an incremental step closer to being ‘outski’.

The wider picture

Low interest rates are key for Key. For that centre-ground voter that Key prizes, if they own a house and have a safe job, things aren't all too bad. This cannot be underestimated as a reason for his success next to all the other reasons put forward like ‘no viable alternative’.

The economy

The economy is dire. Job losses left, right and centre. But Key is not being blamed for the economy. This has to be a big worry for the Left, because what happens if the economy actually picks up?

So Key has won the political Chess of the opening six weeks. Obviously there is much more to staying popular than this. But the truth is he's got a lot of the ‘bad news’ out of the way now - the Opposition are left asking if there are any moves to make.

As for Labour, I think Shearer has performed much better this year. He is more confident. The Labour backroom team seems more organised and in control.

The Labour shadow Cabinet reshuffle has a much more effective team in place.

But while many of the issues above will have angered core Left supporters, will any of the issues have done enough to make a Key voter switch sides? That's the question here - and it doesn't look like it.

Because until the Left can take votes off Key, it cannot win. And its nightmares will continue.

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