Tea Party meeting scandal blow to National
In the last couple of weeks, we have seen the drama of the election whirlwind begin to shake National, highlighting some of the points where they have been weak in their campaign strategy. Key is beginning to come under increasing pressure regarding the contents of the secret tape recorded at the media blitz that was the Epsom meeting between Key and Banks. As John Armstrong says, Key's complaint to the police over the tape looks set to put the heat on National even further. Whether the tape was banal or contained juicy gossip over ACT and National's strategy no longer matters; the complaint to the police demonstrates to voters that this is something that National wants suppressed and will keep the gossip mill going till the election.
National's claim that the secret taping is akin to the News of the World scandal where politicians, media figures and their families were tracked en masse over a long period of time only adds fuel to this fire. Most people would find a highly staged event where there were around 40 reporters a tad different than taping the private phone conversations of a dead girl's family. To discuss strategy at such an event borders on stupidity with the sensitivity of microphones these days, even if the culprit was hidden in a bag. The problem with this is that it also draws attention to the over-exaggeration that they have been prone to over the last few weeks of the election campaign For example, Key's argument that the leaking of the Human Rights Commission's potential investigation into the breach of the Privacy Act in regards to Paula Bennett's expose of a beneficiary through the media was a breach of Bennett's human rights smacks of hypocrisy. Bennett is a Government Minister, and as such should have a competent hold on the law and not be marginalizing the people that she is appointed to represent. Key is equally out of line, and should not be able to interfere with an independent judicial body. This tendency to get involved where he should not be is something that we have seen before when he claimed that he was able to move the time of Coronation Street, despite the whole premise of TVNZ and public broadcasting being that it is independent from Government interference.
In some ways, National have taken a strong arm to dissent in this election that is fueling discussion over what they are really up to, regardless of whether this discussion is warranted or not. The refusal to come clean, for example, on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and what exactly New Zealand is trading off for closer ties with the US is particularly concerning. This Agreement was also denied a Select Committee hearing by National, who felt that it should not be put to debate by our other elected parties for input. Leaks from the US tell us that this has significant implications for Pharmac and the distribution of medicine. Or there is the example of Chief Political Reporter Felix Marwick's complaints that his request for information on the SAS' role in Afghanistan under the Official Information Act was lost and looks set only to find its way to release after the election. Or the way that National aggravated young Facebookers by removing the video where Key asserted Labour in power would mean another Standard and Poors downgrade from everyone's Facebook page. Or Bennett's Campaign Manager being apparently caught out 'red handed' (excuse the pun) in Waitakere yesterday taking down Labour billboards.
For a party that up until now has shown remarkable resilience in being able to release unpopular policy without much effect, the way they have handled this shows a weakness in their strategy. They would have been better off to be less aggressive in broaching this so that it would not become the subject of media focus. For a party that has largely been keeping their Cabinet Ministers out of the spotlight in their electorates, the complaint to the police is the equivalent of letting off a beacon for debate. As some polls have them only marginally ahead and weak in coalition partners, National will be worried about the impact of this scandal on votes. Helen Clark learnt this one in 2002 when she dropped in the polls following Corngate. Key would have been far better off acting far less worried about this tape.