Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Teflon PM survives perfect storm

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John Key is under pressure but still popular in the polls. Photo / Mark Mitchell
John Key is under pressure but still popular in the polls. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He's been hit by the perfect storm on all sides, so surely you'd expect John Key's poll numbers to have broken and sunk to the bottom?

His take(s) on the Dunne-Vance scandal and scaremongering over the GCSB Bill - and a Parliamentary Services manager ending up under the bus - should, surely, have a lot of people thinking Key is an unscrupulous survivor.

A majority of New Zealanders, after all, already said in a poll they believed Kim Dotcom over the Prime Minister in the argument over how much Key knew about the German before his arrest.

Add all this in with Key relying on the single vote of the hapless Peter Dunne - the guy Key effectively sacked for not giving up his secrets - to get his increasingly flawed and unpopular spy changes passed.

In any other time, with any other leader, the public would turn on him or her.

But not our Teflon Prime Minister. Nothing sticks. In fact, the most recent poll on Thursday showed National could rule alone.

David Shearer had a great week, but he must be thinking the gods are tormenting him. Labour's housing policy release on Sunday went down well with mainstream New Zealand and, more importantly, his own base. The best Key could come up with was desperately calling it desperate. Shearer followed up during the week, saying that if he were Prime Minister he would repeal the GCSB legislation and abolish charter schools.

Unfortunately for Labour, these announcements were buried under the headlines about the saga of how a reporter's private cellphone details ended up in Government hands.

However, Shearer is on the right path. He's gone on the offensive, offering popular solutions that resonate with Labour's potential supporters.

His shake-up of the party has lifted their game. His new chief of staff, Francesca Mold, calls her office the War Room.

Good. It means they're serious. I hope they do a complete overhaul. In Helen Clark's early days as leader she turned around her abysmal public profile by sheer willpower and good advice. Shearer can, too. He's toast if he doesn't.

Hopefully a new seriousness permeates through to Labour's front bench and caucus - most of whom need a rocket under them. Frankly, Winston Peters and the Greens are a better opposition.

No leader can do all the heavy lifting. Nor should Labour pretend anyone can match Key when it comes to connecting with mainstream New Zealand. Key is our most popular Prime Minister in recent history. This guy beat the supposedly unbeatable Clark.

Fortunately for Shearer, the National leader is now making mistakes. His once "aw shucks" charm is looking forced. His petulance is starting to show.

Labour's problem is they have not yet earned the right to be taken seriously as his alternative.

Eventually, the public will get sick of Key but until then Shearer and his party are just going to have to knuckle down and do the hard yards.

Shearer won this week. Key lost. They have a lot more to do, but it's a good start.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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