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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Collins 'witch trial' a long shot for Labour

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Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Prime Minister took the rather unusual step of offering free advice to Labour yesterday. It was advice Labour would do well to heed. But it is unlikely to do so. At least not yet.

The gist of John Key's message to Labour went something like this. "Make my day. In fact, make my election day. If you want to continue to rate below 30 per cent in the polls, just keep talking about the things that do not matter. Just keep doing that until election day."

Among the things that do not matter - according to Key - is Labour's pursuit of Judith Collins and who she did or did not have dinner with in Beijing six months ago and what she did or did not tell New Zealand's ambassador afterwards.

Key is right. There is a massive disconnect between the Wellington Beltway and the rest of the country as to whether Collins had a serious conflict of interest in her dealings with milk exporting company Oravida during her trip to China last October, given her husband is a director of the firm.

While Labour tries to variously tease and bludgeon more information out of the Justice Minister, the rest of the country could really not care less and - in Key's view - voters are much more exercised with the more fundamental questions of how the respective parties' policies are going to affect their community in terms of education, health, law and order, and so forth.

Labour, however, will take the view that both Key's sarcasm and Collins likening herself to a victim of the Salem witch trials are indicators they are starting to get frustrated and agitated that the Oravida affair just refuses to go away.

Collins' seeming inability to cut herself loose of the whole unedifying business would suggest she is not a witch. She is unable to cast a spell on anyone right now.

She has instead served Labour's tactical objectives without even realising she was doing so.

Her actions in China have enabled Labour to add the face of another Cabinet minister to what it claims is a rogues' gallery of those National MPs who have been accused of "crony capitalism" - that National is only interested in looking after its "rich mates" while the bulk of the population has to get by with whatever trickles down from the top table.

In essence, David Cunliffe, who talks more than anyone in Labour about crony capitalism, is trying to drive a wedge between Key and those mainstream voters who prefer him to be prime minister even if they are not that comfortable about voting for National.

Labour has tried everything down the years to knock Key off his perch. Its latest effort might work. More than likely it will not.

- NZ Herald

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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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