It’s not been surprising to see National’s dirty tricks machine groan back to life over the last week – in the last week of the leadership campaign a good source close to the Nat’s research unit told me that they’d picked David Cunliffe as the likely winner and they were already digging through his past. At the time they were trying to find “rightwing” comments he’d made that they could use to wedge his left support base from him.
Similarly it’s no surprise they waited until John Key was out of the country before sending Mathew Hooton on a kamikaze attack on Cunliffe on Nine to Noon – after all it’s important they keep Key’s brand well away from that kind of muck. It’s all they’ve got left.
What has been surprising is how hamfistedly it’s been done. Hooton sounded like he was hysterical when he started shouting his smear on the wireless, on the same day Vance managed to get very specific comment from an anonymous “industry player” on the story a little too quickly, and David Farrar has been unusually unsubtle about trying to build it up. I mean check this out:
Some people have suggested that the scrutiny is unfair and part of an attempt to knock Cunliffe down. I think they forget that John Key went through exactly the same thing in 2008.
The NZ Herald had reporters spend months investigating John Key’s background. They talked to former colleagues and acquaintances of Key’s from around the world. They eventually published their findings in a multi-page feature.
It’s like a begging letter to the MSM. Unsurprisingly there’s been little pick up.
What all this tells me is the dirty tricks machine that National once (quietly) prided itself on has got very rusty. Well, that and they’ve not realised that running this kind of campaign when you’re in government and you’ve clearly got no popular policy just looks dirty and desperate (*cough* H-fee *cough*).
I understand we’ll see more of this over the next week or so. The nats are looking to damage Cunliffe’s reputation before he establishes himself fully in the public’s mind (at which point it will be a much harder task for them). They know they can’t go head to head on policy – because nobody actually likes their policies – so they’re going personal.
The problem they’ve got is they’re not doing a very good job of it. Add to that the fact they’re increasingly looking like they’ve got no vision of their own and I think they’re putting themselves in line for significant blow-back. It’ll be interesting to see what their next move is.