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John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Key's credibility takes a hit

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Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Janna Dixon
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Janna Dixon

Not since his embarrassing memory loss regarding the number of Tranz Rail shares he had or had not owned has the Prime Minister looked quite so uncomfortable as he did at his weekly press conference yesterday.

Neither has he sounded so unconvincing as he did in countering Labour accusations he misled Parliament a week ago when answering questions about the downgrading of New Zealand's credit rating by Standard & Poor's.

While John Key was saying one thing, his body language seemed to be saying something else.

He was bombarded with questions from journalists after the credit ratings agency issued a point-blank denial of his claim that it had privately warned a month or so ago that a downgrade was much more likely if there was a change of government after next month's election.

It now turns out his claim was based on second-hand information passed on to him in an email from someone who had been at a meeting between bank economists and representatives from Standard & Poor's.

Furthermore, the source - who Key refused to name - told him he was basing that claim on an "inference" he had taken from what Standard & Poor's had told the meeting.

Key insists his informant is well-known to him, someone who is trustworthy and reliable and who has previously passed on information which turned out to be correct.

Key obviously saved the email as useful material to throw back at Labour when the Opposition came after him in Parliament last week after the ratings downgrade the previous Friday. His attempt to catch Labour out has instead caught him out.

The whole episode might seem rather trivial in the grand scheme of things. However, the result of the election will be determined by two things - whether Labour can erode the vast stocks of kudos and credibility Key has built up with voters and whether Labour can persuade voters it would be a better manager of New Zealand's economy.

On both fronts, Labour is struggling badly. Key's own goals on both fronts will at least give some encouragement.

For Key, they serve as a timely pre-campaign reminder of the dangers of winging it without strong evidence to back up what you are saying.


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John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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