Armstrong on Key

Given the centre-left was well and truly thrashed by John Key-led National in last September’s election – not to mention the two previous ones – you would have thought it would have dawned on those occupying that part of the political spectrum that devoting time and energy to catching the Prime Minister out has not been very productive. If anything, it seems to be counter-productive, reinforcing Key’s standing, rather than undermining it.

That Key escaped punishment at the ballot box last September despite exposure of the dirty-tricks campaign masterminded by Jason Ede and Whale Oil’s Cameron Slater tells you an awful lot about New Zealand voters’ stance on the abuse of power and safeguarding political rights.

Quite simply, they don’t have one. If they did, Hager would have been considered a hero – not someone to be vilified and who ends up on the receiving end of a police search warrant.

Such high levels of public apathy have given Key a reliable measure of the degree of public tolerance of his and National’s less attractive attributes.

In the case of Mike Sabin and allegations made against him which ultimately forced the Northland MP’s resignation from Parliament, Key’s popularity is such that he could probably change his story half-a-dozen times while now admitting he was well aware of Sabin’s troubles long before last September’s election and the backbencher’s appointment as chair of Parliament’s law and order select committee.

That Key gets away with things that trip up other (and lesser) politicians is a source of immense frustration for the centre-left.

It is one reason why Key is not just disliked by Labour activists. He is detested. Finding the means of destroying his seemingly hypnotic hold on Middle New Zealand has become an obsession for Labour.

Cue Labour’s revival of the old game of “what did the Prime Minister really know and when did he know it?”

Given the chatter within National Party ranks and elsewhere in the months before the September election, plus reports that a police investigation began in August, it seems inconceivable that Key did not know of Sabin’s problems before late November – the time Key says he was informed. Everyone else seems to have known before then.

There is also a strong possibility the police tipped off the Beehive under a “no surprises” policy of alerting party leaders when an MP strikes trouble of a legal nature.

But so what?

The “so what” part is that either John Key knew, and he appointed Sabin as chair of the Law and Order select committee anyway, which seems a bit odd for someone allegedly accused of assault, or he genuinely didn’t know while everyone else did.

In the latter case, Key’s out of the loop. ?No longer in control. ?His ministers and staff are no longer communicating critical issues up to the PM.

If you are in the camp that believes the PM genuinely didn’t know (and let’s be fair, that would explain his misplaced faith in Sabin until the last minute), then you have to start hunting for the people who made decision not to tell him.


Either way, this issue shows a dysfunction inside the top of National right now. ? And it isn’t about Sabin – he’s a side show to this – it’s about a PM lying, or a PM being kept out of the loop. ? Neither are palatable choices.