John Key invested a lot of political capital in Melissa Lee. She was his hand picked candidate for the showcase Mt Albert by-election (unceremoniously pushing aside local veteran Ravi Musuku). Winning Helen Clark’s old electorate would have been a hugely symbolic victory for National, and for a while they and their pundits thought it was possible.
As it became clear that the expectations of Lee were unfounded, and a series of gaffes derailed her campaign, John Key invested more of his personal capital trying to turn the by-election into a referendum on broader issues:
Prime Minister John Key wants Mt Albert voters to consider what the Government is doing, rather than focus on local issues as his candidate Melissa Lee’s campaign goes from bad to worse.
“Because you live in Mt Albert doesn’t mean that you don’t have a consideration for the big national issues,” Mr Key told Radio New Zealand.
He told Radio New Zealand this morning that Mt Albert voters would consider the national perspective. “I believe that they would look at a government that six months ago was elected on the back of wanting to make sure we had an economic future that was strong and prosperous, that lifted education standards, and made our community safer, and those things are the very things this government is implementing.”
Well, Mt Albert voters delivered their verdict, a landslide for Labour. So did the voters ignore Key’s request to treat this as a referendum on national issues, or did they follow his advice and deliver a firm verdict on the direction of this government? Probably the former, but either way it is a slap in the face for Key. His political capital didn’t count for anything to the voters of Mt Albert, and has now been seriously diminished.
For those who follow politics closely his no show on election night, his total lack of support for Melissa Lee, is also telling. In trying to avoid the tarnish of defeat, he has only raised more serious questions about his character.