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What will stick to 'Teflon John'?

Wednesday 13 Mar 2013 10:15 a.m.

Prime Minister John Key has been labelled 'Teflon John' or the 'Teflon Man' by some political pundits as he appears to be able to brush off controversy after controversy.

Since the start of the year he and his senior ministers have been deflecting criticism over issues such as state asset sales, the Sky City convention centre, Solid Energy, Novopay and mounting job losses.

None of it has made a dent in the polls, which for the last year have consistently put the National Party close to 50 percent.

So what will it take for something to stick? Public relations practitioner and former National Party president Michelle Boag says the biggest threat to the Government is losing touch with the people.

"I think the danger for the Government is that if they start to look like they're disengaged, especially from their own constituency – and just this week we've seen, for example, the IRD pressing on fringe benefits for carparks, housing allowances and on cellphones – those sorts of things will really remove the Government from their own constituency, which is largely small business," Ms Boag told Firstline this morning.'

"I think there is a danger that they would appear to that group that they don't care. The big danger for National, even when these poll results are holding up so well, is that their own constituency won't vote in the next election. That's what they've got to be wary of."

Senior ministers, including the Prime Minister, in interviews often use phrases such as "I'm relaxed about that" or "I'm not concerned". Ms Boag says it's a reflection on who they are as people.

"John Key is known to never be fazed by anything. Bill English is quite a laconic individual, and Steven Joyce also gives an impression of being able to handle anything.

"I guess the issue for them is whether that starts to look like they don't care, or are not concerned enough. I think Steven Joyce has been trying to demonstrate his real concern over Novopay, and that seems to be getting across, with even the union delegates saying it's good to see he's really concerned about this and doing something about it."

Ms Boag says appearing relaxed is something the current leadership might have learned from former National Party leader and Prime Minister, Jim Bolger.

"It's certainly a tactic in media interviews, especially when you get an interviewer who's trying to be frantic and engaged, and get the minister wound up – it's a very good tactic to say, 'Look, I'm really relaxed about that,' and many politicians have done it. Jim Bolger used to do it quite masterfully."

Mr Key has spent the past 10 days in South America, and arrives back home with many of the same problems as before still making headlines – but without the Opposition making any headway.

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