As Prince George launched into playtime with a suitably diverse group of New Zealand babies yesterday, the politicians were putting on their own rendition of throwing toys in the sandpit.

Contemplating the week of royal occasions ahead, Labour leader David Cunliffe got in a bit of a sulk about the Prime Minister getting more playtime with the royal family than him and for angling for a visit to the White House in the lead-up to the election, accusing him of engineering the election year calendar to milk his love-ins with famous people.

There is a tradition that politics and the royals should not mix. So Cunliffe prefaced his snipe by saying Labour had absolutely no intention of politicising the issue just before he went on to do so.

Key was little better. He, too, put on a show of playing the statesman by saying it was simply the job that fell to the Prime Minister of the day. He then ruined it all because he couldn't resist rubbing Cunliffe's nose in it by giving reminders in neon about what great buddies he was with Prince William and US President Barack Obama.


In trying to rebut Cunliffe's claims he was a sucker for the photo op, he simultaneously made sure he reminded both Cunliffe and the wider public of photo ops of yore - mentioning that he already had a bulging album of snaps with Obama on the golf greens in Hawaii and striding across the fells of Balmoral on his visit with the Queen last year.

Senior statesman Winston Peters marched in as well, declaring he was above such "obsequious, subservient" behaviour and would not be seeing the royals at all, thank you very much. This was largely because a diary conflict meant he couldn't go to the state reception and he wasn't invited to anything else. Peters couldn't really point that out, so instead relied on the approach of turning his misfortune into a virtue and harrumphing about the political expediency of those politicians lining up for a touch of the royal paw.

If the end game is promoting New Zealand to the world, the timing could have been better. The international media had landed and were on a lay day. The effect was of one of the hosts at a dinner party having a domestic quarrel in front of the guests during the entree.

But the real end game is the election. Key may have had a point that the majority of the public didn't give two hoots and hadn't got round to thinking about the election or whether a baby with two bottom teeth would be a key determinant in their decision-making.

But Cunliffe was acknowledging that on the political balance of payments, the votes that might be firmed up for Key from the photo ops were greater than the votes he risked losing from any perception he was over-exposing himself to the royals. Key, too, believes the same thing. So there was a bit of a show about the dinner with Key being hush-hush private time. But somebody made sure word of it got out. There is no point having a private tete-a-tete over a home-cooked roast if the public don't know you are having it.

It is also obvious Key has taken some precautions. He was pasted to the side of Prince William on his previous visit, a Noddy to Big Ears, a Klingon to the starboard bow.

This time round, if he did any less it would be almost insulting.

Between them, the Duke and Duchess have about 26 engagements, ranging from walkabouts to World War I commemorations. Key will take part in six as well as being at the airport for their arrival and departure.


He has even managed to resist going to Christchurch for earthquake and Cricket World Cup events - the most "political" of their days in New Zealand.

Key might not be there in person, but his hand is everywhere. The reconnaissance for the visit to Amisfield Winery on Sunday was done by no less a person than the PM himself. He and his family often dine at the winery when they are in Queenstown and he named it in an article singing the praises of Queenstown to London's Telegraph last year.

However, Key may have some explaining to do to the royal couple. According to Amisfield's blog, Key told the winery their food was "better than the royal wedding" when he visited with his family two months after those nuptials in 2011.