Yesterday, the Government had something of a panic moment. Under fire for its failure to deliver jobs, for its plan to sell assets to pay for tax cuts for the rich, and the gross hypocrisy of the BMW debacle, it released five press releases less than two hours trying to spin its way out of trouble. It didn’t work and nor has the smile and wave routine.
The NBR calls this John Key’s ‘Wile E Coyote moment’ (not online). Everything has seemed to be going so well, to observers it has appeared certain he will catch the Roadrunner (a second-term and the deliver of hard-right policies that would result). But now he’s run off the cliff to momentarily, as NBR puts it: “hang there, legs spinning, before plunging into the abyss”.
We’re used to Key getting away with everything, fucking up but being forgiven with a smile and a wave. That’s Brand Key, or what Lyndon Hood memorably calls “A loveable clown, with all the gravitas of a helium balloon. A comic vacuum cleaner salesman”.
Now, suddenly, he’s gone from being Teflon John (someday someone in the media is going to have to work out where those new PMs are getting their Teflon) to being a guy who looks like he can’t be stuffed with the work of actually governing let alone convincing the public that it should go against its instincts and support privatisation – watch the frustration as Key gently pounds his desk 2.25 minutes in to Question Time on Wednesday as he, once again, reels off excuses for privatisation that he doesn’t himself believe – he just can’t be arsed.
The BMW debacle may be a small thing in terms of government spending but it is a microcosm of everything his government has done. In helping himself and his mates to more public money while threatening to take it away from others, and lying about it when caught, Key’s standard modus operandi has been captured in a single simple story that is resonating through the public and will affect how they interpret all his actions in the future. In particular, his wish to sell our public assets, which will be a central feature of the coming election.
It’s about now that the Crosby/Textor script calls for Key to do something quirky and win back our hearts. His antics have made him into the ‘Odd-spot’ PM, that’s the only column he appears in in the international news, and they have worked on the public – until now. The BMW story, the asset sales, the out of touch foodbank comments, every story and every lie has worn away the Teflon until, now, it’s gone. Key’s clowning around has gone from being the adorable actions of a harmless guy to being unconvincing attempts to shift attention from the unpopular, unwanted things his government is doing and wants to do. An asset is now a liability. The Trans-Tasman (not online) chimes in:
“it wasn’t just the mince down the catwalk, which was a walk a little too close to the wild side for some, not to say confusing. It came a week after he said Liz Hurley was “hot”. (Those who have suggested Key is a bit much “all things to all people” just got a bit more ammo). The Liz Hurley comment also got the PM into the UK and Aust tabloids – and the last time this happened was when he said he’d has a vasectomy … anyone see a certain theme emerging here?”
Yeah, I’m seeing one. If the media won’t reproduce Brand Key for him faithfully anymore but, instead, turn it against him, what then for National? Can they hold the numbers till November if their one asset, Key, is compromised? Can Key be bothered trying?