Make no mistake, John Key’s comment about Tuhoe cannibalism was no accident, it was no joke, and it certainly was not ‘self-deprecating’.
Key didn’t just happen to accidentally make a comment that appeals to a deep-seated prejudice that is still current among redneck Pakeha and wedges our society in two. It was a message to Tuhoe, and the message was: ‘I’m going with the rednecks, they’re breathing down my neck. So, no deal for you Tuhoe and Maori Party, don’t expect much on the foreshore and seabed. If you don’t like it, I’m prepared to incite the rednecks to get my way. Take it or leave it’
This was a bargaining move. Sure, it backfired because it’s incredibly unsophisticated and won’t play well with the soft National vote, which is predominately non-Pakeha. That’s why Key told RadioLive “I’m not allowed” to repeat the comment (not the first time Key has revealed himself to be little more than an actor). But nonetheless it was a bargaining move.
As some of our commentators have already noted, Key is treating this treaty deal (and the foreshore and seabed deal) like a commercial negotiation. He doesn’t seem to get that it’s about the Crown recognising rights, recognising its past wrongs, and making recompense. He thinks the objective is to drive the hardest bargain possible and walk away if the offer isn’t good enough. It’s a money trader mentality and totally unsuited to the role of Prime Minister in the 21st Century.