John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Arrogant and cynical? Possibly, but a long way from Muldoonist

John Key. Photo / Glenn Taylor
John Key. Photo / Glenn Taylor

Muldoonist? John Key? Russel Norman cannot be serious.

The Green Party co-leader's assertion that the "divisive and corrosive" behaviour exhibited by the leader of the National Party is akin to that of his most notorious of predecessors is certainly headline-grabbing. It also verges on the ludicrous. Sir Robert Muldoon was without question our most belligerent, abrasive, polarising, dictatorial and vindictive politician.

The fear and loathing he was capable of generating within his own ranks - let alone in the wider world of politics - was summed up by a caucus colleague who said he went to Muldoon's funeral only so he could be assured the lid on the coffin had been nailed down properly.

The MP was only partly joking. Norman appears not to be in claiming Key is likewise behaving like a "schoolyard bully" in becoming noticeably undemocratic, hostile to rational debate and intolerant of opposition.

"He may not look like Muldoon, but he sure as hell is acting like Muldoon," Norman argued in his weekend speech to his party's annual conference.

He claimed Key was putting National's self-interest and that of his party's big business "mates" ahead of everything, be it rushed law to stop some caregivers of the disabled from going to court; legislation forbidding protesters from going near deep-sea oil-drilling sites; the SkyCity convention centre deal; and the wholesale rejection of the Electoral Commission's review of MMP.

Norman is correct in saying National is displaying worrying levels of cynicism. That is not untypical of the arrogance that governments develop during their second term, however. And it falls way short of being Muldoonist.

Norman's examples are pretty tame when compared with the base political motives that sparked the Moyle affair; Muldoon's use of the SIS to target, monitor and discredit prominent trade unionists; his cynically allowing the 1981 Springbok tour to go ahead to ensure National kept its grip on provincial electorates; banning journalists from press conferences; handing out big subsidies to National-voting farmers; describing the leaders of African independence movements as having only "just come down from the trees"; effectively awarding himself a knighthood; and, in his final hours as prime minister, provoking something close to a constitutional crisis by refusing to accept the immediate transfer of power to the incoming Labour administration.

Muldoon occupies the top spot on Parliament's Roll of Dishonour. Key has yet to stray even close to auditioning for inclusion.

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- NZ Herald

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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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