It’s possible to win a battle but, in doing so, lose the war.
Like most commentators, I thought Key came off best from the debate on Tuesday. It was a good format for him to parrot his lines, all he had to do is deliver them well. As he said himself, 2 years of training from Crosby/Textor has turned him into a reasonable speaker when he is on script. And the PM was below her best.
But, like the general who throws his reserves in to win a battle leaving nothing to defend the counter-attack, Key’s debate performance left him dangerously exposed. His weak, vacillating response to the question of whether for not he had made private promises to the Maori Party on dropping his party’s Maori seats policy pricked up the ears of every news hound in the country. Clearly, there was a truth he wanted to avoid telling. Instead, he went with what seem to be his first instincts when caught out – try to obscure the issue in technicality (he repeatedly said there was no ‘formal’ agreement) and tell the lie that he thinks his audience wants to hear.
Problem is, Pita Sharples and his party are adamant the promise has been made. The result has been disastrous. He has been revealed to Maori as a double-dealer; another Pakeha willing to butter them up while promising his own people anti-Maori policies. To the people whom his Maori seat policy is meant to dog-whistle he looks like he’s all talk; what’s the point in a bigot voting for someone who is then going to turn around and work with the Maori and isn’t serious about his anti-Maori policies? To everyone else, Key is revealed once again to be untrustworthy; he stood in front of a million of us on Tuesday and lied through his teeth. No candidate for Prime Minister that I can think of has ever lied to the people on camera so often and been caught out on it. Ashcroft, Tranzrail, the Maori seats, Kiwisaver, Kiwibank… all those images of him with what Audrey Young calls his ‘Tranzrail eyes’, that spark of fear when he realises his lie is sprung.
Being caught out in all those lies, the constant slippierness, not only brings into question his trustworthiness as a leader it undermines everything he says. For instance, in his blog today, Key has a cry over some Labour protestors doing a skit of him auctioning off Kiwi assets. He insists he wouldn’t do sell them but he has been caught out in so many other lies that a denial isn’t credible. What might otherwise be an ineffectual topic of protest actually resonates.
Sure, Key won the debate but the image from that debate of his ‘Tranzrail eyes’ may end up being the iconic image of his defeat.