Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Popularity tables turn on Key at Ratana Pa

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John Key seemed to have lost his golden touch at Ratana Marae.  Photo / Mark Mitchell
John Key seemed to have lost his golden touch at Ratana Marae. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Crikey, what a political week! And Parliament hasn't even opened yet.

John Key started off the week with the ritual execution of two hapless Cabinet ministers. Given they only got told about it hours before their dear leader gratuitously humiliated them revealed something ugly in Key's psychological makeup.

Their meek acceptance of humiliation and the ending of their political careers certainly shows Key, like any hunter, knows to pick the weakest members of the herd when it comes to a cull.

His determination to protect Hekia Parata makes sense when we realise he handpicked her straight on to his front bench. Her failure is his failure. Key has covered himself by appointing two competent associate ministers to keep her from screwing up too much. Good luck with that.

When Key fronted at Ratana Pa for the prophet's birthday, he was left haplessly alone after his usual sidekick Pita Sharples, the Maori Party co-leader, didn't show.

Instead he was accompanied by Parata and had to spend much of his speech saying she wasn't as bad as they thought. Not quite the golden touch at receptions he enjoyed on previous Ratana trips.

Key's right-wing mates were back in the news this week, too. John Boscawen, the former deputy leader to Rodney Hide and then Don Brash, has been a good trooper in agreeing to take over the Act Party presidency.

He must feel like a doctor in an old people's hospital ward. He can't change the fact his patient is dying - and sometimes prolonging a sad and painful life isn't worth it. You just have to pull the plug.

Then the Prime Minister's other mates exploded into the headlines. The Maori Party started with five MPs last term. They expelled one and lost one. Another is retiring. That leaves just two.

The remaining leader, 71-year-old Sharples, wants to stick around but 57-year-old youngster Te Ururoa Flavell wants to be leader, too.

Both think that unless they are leader they won't be able to hold on to their seats at the next election. They are right. However, I suspect they won't be around to prop up a National government anyway.

Enter, stage left, the expelled member. Hone Harawira, the only one likely to keep his seat, said he'd be prepared to take on their leader's job to save them from their fate. His former colleagues and the beltway went into a hot sweat at the thought. I suspect they'd rather get squished between Labour and Harawira's Mana Party at the next election than endure that particular humiliation.

Labour and the Greens, on the other hand, have had a great week. On the back of good polls in recent months that put the two political blocs neck and neck, David Shearer was feted at the annual Ratana gathering.

He even stayed overnight - a rare privilege - while the other party leaders got shown the gate. Ratana Pa is in the middle of Tariana Turia's electorate. Anyone willing to bet a Ratana candidate gets the nod from Shearer to win the seat back for Labour?

Green co-leader Metiria Turei was centre-stage. She had just released the Greens' housing policy. Shearer moved the housing debate at his conference, promising to build 100,000 homes in partnership with the private sector.

Turei gazumped that by putting up a plan where even the poorest families could afford to buy state-built homes. The Ratanas loved it so much they ditched their male-only marae protocols to let her speak.

The Government responded by putting out a press release bleating about the price of the Greens' policy. They obviously missed the news this week that New Zealand houses are among the most costly in the world, and most Kiwis will never be able to afford a home. Rentals, too, are rising faster than wages.

Not a good first week back from holiday for National. You can just see those home-seekers' votes sliding away. Key should have sacked his housing minister earlier.

- Herald on Sunday

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