Rodney Hide: Time weakens all strengths

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Photo / Alan Gibson
Photo / Alan Gibson

Prime Minister John Key swept into office like a breath of fresh air. I recall him entering a crowded function soon after his election . He exuded warmth, fun and positivity. His presence immediately lifted the room. His speech was casual and off-the-cuff. It was personal. It resonated. It made people laugh. They felt good about New Zealand's future.

I had seen Helen Clark enter similar functions. People stiffened. The laughter stopped. People admired her and stood in awe of her. They knew her as strong and extremely competent. But they didn't warm to her.

Clark's speeches were mechanical and precise. There were no mistakes. But there were no belly laughs either. In the end, people grew tired of her. Key was new. He was relaxed and his candour refreshing. He was more human. It was his greatest asset.

I saw a teenage girl bounce up to Key in the airport terminal, "Hi John, been busy?"

"Not bad," replied the Prime Minister. It's hard to imagine a similar exchange with Clark. People stood back from her. There was no small talk. But now that casualness and ready availability has become Key's great weakness. He forgot the phone call he made asking Ian Fletcher to apply to head the GCSB.

John Key supporters say, "Who cares?" The Prime Minister in the moment forgot about a call he had made months previously. Big deal. Prime Ministers shoulder-tap people for jobs all the time. The correct process was followed once Fletcher applied. And no one is questioning Fletcher's suitability for the job.

Key's opponents are declaring cronyism, lying, cover-up and incompetence. They have landed a punch and keep on hitting. The media are reporting the stoush and appear not to accept the PM's assurances that he had simply forgotten about the call. They see his momentary memory lapse as all too convenient.

So Key has declared he won't in the future be so casual. He will check and recheck before giving answers.

He will sacrifice immediacy for accuracy. It's the way it has always been with politicians and it's a little sad. I liked it that Key answered on the spot and didn't weigh and calculate his answers for their political effect.

It felt like we were getting the real deal. Key was different from other politicians. Well, not any more. The PM is promising to be more cagey. I think it's the country's loss.

The Maori Party's biggest asset was its promise of new indigenous politics. It would do things the Maori way. And it has done so, sometimes to the enormous frustration of the other political parties and to the electorate at large.

But now the Maori Party's unique way of doing things is proving its greatest weakness. Co-leader and party founder Tariana Turia has publicly said her fellow co-leader Pita Sharples should go. His only other caucus member, Te Ururoa Flavell, says he should go. But Pita won't be budged. He says on-camera that he is prepared to lead "until I'm dead" and adds, "I mean forever".

His "leader-for-life" quip sadly reinforces that he's taking the chief's role too literally. The Maori Party's kaupapa and tikanga don't provide for a quick vote to dispatch one political leader for another.

The Maori Party's great electoral asset is now its Achilles' heel.

If they don't sort it, the next election will sort it for them. It's democracy's great strength that every three years the voters have their say.

It's not a fair system. It doesn't ensure that the best win. But it's decisive. The scrapping over the leadership of the Maori Party may well mean there's no party to scrap over.

Our Parliamentary democracy ensures that there are no leaders "forever". That's what makes it so powerful and so robust.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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