Rodney Hide: Week of horror for National

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Judith Collins under fire from the media. Photo / Getty Images
Judith Collins under fire from the media. Photo / Getty Images

The Government has suffered what we in my old trade would call a septimana horribilis. Actually, the agony has gone on even longer than a week.

First was a minister overboard. That's not good. There was no grey area with Maurice Williamson: ministers don't go questioning, querying or calling the police about a prosecution decision. Ever.

That's because ministers through Cabinet appoint police bosses and determine police budgets. They have power over the police and to ensure a justice system free of political interference must never intervene in - or even query - police decisions to prosecute.

Williamson's call was bad enough. But his call was on behalf of a wealthy Chinese donor. The timing couldn't have been worse: high-flying minister Judith Collins was already under fire for apparent favours to a company with wealthy Chinese bosses. That company, too, had donated to National.

The two stories run together create an odorous pattern: Chinese immigrants, political donations, favoured treatment. The faintest whiff of corruption is the last thing the Government needs.

Williamson's resignation was quick, clean and over. Meanwhile, Collins' "short private dinner"and "quick glass of milk" drag on.

Screwing up in politics is forgivable and survivable. What is not forgivable - or survivable - is not killing the story stone dead. That is Collins' predicament. Her screw-up is proving an ongoing sore and distraction.

Of course, everything is easy in hindsight. Collins should have been upfront and dumped the entire story on day one. Instead, peering through the mist of politics, like the fog of war, she was determined to play cagey and to release the barest details necessary only to find herself having to reveal more and more each day. It only served to keep the story running hot.

And then, bang. Inexplicably, Collins rides in to defend the already knocked-out Williamson. What was she thinking? In a single outburst she reignites the Williamson story and opens up a front with the Press Gallery.

That's not a war National needs. It's votes they want, not a battle with journalists, no matter how irritating, provoking and hypocritical they are.

To win, the Government must talk jobs, wages, the economy, not be dragged into battlegrounds of the Opposition's choosing.

Key now had another fire to put out. He made Collins apologise and then, devastatingly, put her on stress leave. Brilliant. On one hand, he appears caring and thoughtful and, on the other, he deals a devastating blow. The "Crusher" presents as strong and invincible. The need for stress leave destroys her tough, no-nonsense reputation. The Crusher is crushed.

John Key, Bill English and Steven Joyce must now steady the ship. That they will do. Governments are good at it. And it's Budget time. That provides a platform for them to step up a gear and talk about the the things that matter to Kiwis.

Meanwhile, if you think you may ever need some help from your local MP, don't donate to the National Party. Nothing is now more likely to see that door slammed shut than your name appearing on the donor list.

But Labour, too, has its problems. In chasing down Collins it has failed to confront the elephant in its caucus. We know who donated to National. We can spot the possible conflict. We can't say the same about Labour. That's because its leader resolutely refuses to name the donors to his leadership campaign. He has kept his donors secret.

What has Cunliffe got to hide? What favours has he promised? Labour keeps insisting that money taints politics. Well, who has tainted Cunliffe? Will he ever tell us?

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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