Kudos to Crosby Textor for doing such a good job of changing the secret agenda debate to the issue of who taped the conversations (although whoever came up with the absurd idea of taking photos of John’s rubbish should probably be put on leave until the election is over) but they have a harder job ahead of them now the news has broken that there are more recordings out there.
It has been clear for some time that the Nats are playing a small target/brand Key/Labour plus* campaign game but they may have to rethink that now as every time they put out a “policy” document, write a speech or even release a basic media statement they are going to be doing so without knowing if there is something on a tape out there that contradicts what they say and, if so, whether it will be released.
Obviously the way to deal with this would be to pull the entire caucus together and find out exactly what they said at the cocktail party but to do that successfully the Nats would need a tight and collaborative caucus that felt safe admitting their errors openly and I don’t think they have that. Especially after the humiliating example that was made of Bill. Can you, for example, imagine Murray McCully or Gerry Brownlee fessing up to their colleagues that they mouthed off to a total stranger about using front groups to smear Labour politicians or their desire to flick off energy SOEs? And even if they did would they be trusted by their party to have told the whole story?
So how do they ensure they can campaign without setting themselves up for more secret agenda falls? I’ve thought long and hard about that and I don’t think they can without either coming clean with detailed policy (which they can’t afford to do politically but should for the sake of democracy) or by knowing everything that was recorded and working their spin around it. That means finding the guy/s that did it and explains why they are going to such great lengths to do so. Unless they do I expect we’ll see National’s PR machine being throttled back. And given that machine has been used to continually mislead the electorate, that may not be a bad thing at all.
*It was illuminating to hear Bill use the phrase “Labour Plus” as it seems very much the kind of cynical catchy shorthand C/T would use for the strategy they’re running.