Audrey Young

Political editor Audrey Young blogs from Parliament

Blog: Key blunders over which party he leads

By Audrey Young

11:45: Yikes! As blunders go, it doesn't get much worse than the one John Key just made in his first speech to the National Party conference as party leader.

"Under a Labour Government I lead, child abusers will be severely punished."

The murmur from the audience didn't alert him to the blooper that completely eclipses anything else in recent memory.

It's a clip we can expect to see repeated on television more times than the Greens folk-dancing or Don Brash struggling to get into a stock car.

And it is another blunder that will be thrown back in his face next week - on top of the confusion he created last week over the party's therapeutics agency policy.

There's no doubt that the blunder "Under a Labour Government I lead...") broke the feel-good spell of the National Party conference.

And he was pretty disappointed with himself. At the press conference afterwards he looked embarrassed and just said "we all make slips - we're all human," which is just about all you can say.

But having just reviewed the tape of the press conference, he made another one that wasn't picked up at the time. In answer to the very first question he referred to "tax wage cuts" instead of "tax cuts."

"After tax wage cuts we'll ensure that they have much a greater income to service those mortgaged or to save for a home," he said in response to a question from TVNZ's Fran Mold.

The errors indicate something that is not evident in Key's outwardly confident and relaxed performance - that despite appearances, he feels the pressure.

He will be kicking himself. It wasn't Maurice Williamson's concentration camp talk or the painful dispute between Tim Groser and ex wife that took the shine of his speech but himself.

The pity of it is that his performance, though flawed, was a huge step up on other formal speeches he has given.

By the way, the speech signalled that the party is not going to let Labour do all the running on housing affordability policies and outlined some serious policy development in the area.

9.25am: I don't care how it is justified in theory, in practice it feels wrong that Australia's foreign minister, Alexander Downer, is in New Zealand lending his weight to the National Party bid to get rid of the New Zealand Government.

And there is no other way to interpret his acceptance of an invitation to speak at the National Party conference. An Australian Transport minister fine. A Local Government fine. A doesn't-matter finance minister. But Foreign Affairs Minister or Prime Minister, the people in charge of the relationship, no.

Downer was never going to make an overtly political speech. He didn't need to. The fact of being here is an overt political act.

It would also be a miscalculation for Helen Clark to address the Australian Labor Party as a source of inspiration as it attempts to get ride of Howard and Downer. The trans-Tasman relationship is too important to risk unnecessary offence.

Downer's behind-closed-door speech is said to have touched on the philosophies of important centre-right leaders such as Regan and Thatcher.

Judy Kirk has just described Downer's behind-closed-doors address as absolutely inspirational

I'm told by a couple of delegates that Downer was "taller," "funnier" and "more intellectual" than they had expected.

On another note, if taxi drivers are meant to be the barometer of the electorate then John Key could be in in for a landslide. My driver last night, a Samoan from Mangere, voted Labour last time. He's not voting Labour next time because he is so peeved that the party is looking to import a candidate from Otara to replace Phillip Field. There are only two parties that can win the seat next time, he reckons, depending on the candidates they choose: the Maori Party or the National Party.

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