National's campaign strategy is starting to look shakey, and it's as much to do with the economy and discipline as Dirty Politics

John Key has been relying more than usual on the scripted spin when it comes to defending his administration after the revelations in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics, one of his most popular being that Hager's claims were "dissolving before his eyes". But instead, the claims have stacked up and it's National's famed discipline that's fading.

A 3News-Reid Research poll tonight will start to give us a clearer idea about the impact of Hager's book on voters' trust in National. But while the news is very much of the moment, the impact on voters may be more slow-burning. The three specific points I've focussed on in previous posts (accessing Labour's computer, releasing Simon Pleasants' details and the SIS and other OIA requests being released for political ends) are reasons for serious concern, but I suspect the issue may end up being more a corrosive than explosive when it comes to voter support. Although how quickly the corrosion will set in it's impossible to say. That, in large part, will depend on surrounding factors.

The thing is, those surrounding factors aren't looking good for National this week.

It's easy to get caught up in the daily news cycle, but step back for a moment and look at what National's facing this week outside Dirty Politics. First, economists have said the economy has "peaked" and at a Queenstown debate last night English accepted that.

That doesn't mean we're in decline, but rather that growth is slowing. That, according to Shamubeel Eaqub, includes wage growth. And given just over half of New Zealanders got a pay rise in the past year, it's going to worry many that the fruits of recovery may have passed them by already.

On the same day John Key faced a protest from a group of people (almost) all New Zealanders ache for -- the families of those who died in the Pike River mine explosion. On its own, the government's failure to get into the mine might be considered understandable given the risks and the decisions being made by Solid Energy. But seeing the families' frustration and in the context of Cameron Slater's "feral" comments, it's bad optics for Key, as those in the spin business might say.

You've got National all over the place on tax cuts -- with English dampening expectations at every turn and Key insisting he does have a few lollies in his pockets if we just agree to go with him. It may be a hurriedly arranged distraction from the Hager claims, but it looks like the party's leaders can't make up their mind. And when you're basing your election campaign on a "don't change boats mid-stream" strategy it's rather off-message.

Then you've got the dark cloud of Judith Collins hanging over everything National does and another mistake from her in the past 12 hours, where she relied on "media reports" when she claimed to have been cleared by the Privacy Commissioner on the Pleasants matter, only to have to conceed that the Commissioner is simply refusing to investigate. Which isn't, obviously, the same as being cleared.

And while we're about it, English also said in Queenstown that he did not "condone" Jason Ede accessing Labour's website. That's directly at odds with Key's comment that it was "fair enough". That's something that could get a lot more play today.

Put all that together and frankly, it's a mess for National. On their own, such stories can be put down to the unavoidable rough and tumble of the campaign but the worry for the party's strategists will be if there's a cumulative impact.

If it was Labour we'd be saying 'here we go again'. National's track record of discipline means commentators are slower to point out the mess when it appears, assuming it's a blip rather than a trend.

But that's now for National to prove one way or another. Momentum heading into the final fortnight is crucial, and the fact is National doesn't have it. Is its campaign plan "dissolving" or can its leadership get back on track?

Comments (4)

by Kat on August 27, 2014

Everyone knows you change ship if the one your in is sinking. Nationals sinking row boat has the opposition being in a life boat. How ironic.


by Katharine Moody on August 27, 2014
Katharine Moody

In last nights finance debate, Bill English stated that debt would be a couple of billion dollars lower at the end of next term, but as Hamish Rutherford pointed out TSY are predicting that debt won't peak until 2018. So, if that is correct, BE must have been really rattled - as he doesn't usually get important figures wrong.


I do feel for him being the only one in the National caucus so far to denounce attack politics type tactics. Reading the Slater/Lusk correspondences from whaledump it seems to me they didn't much like JK either, but given JK was prepared to play along, they tolerated him.

What surprises me in this big reveal is that National pounded Labour hard in Parliament and via the media for its internal political squabbling - whilst all the time in their own party ranks they have this hard right, nasty dirty trickster faction fighting the centrists in their own party in the most appalling way. Reading the whaledumps, it is quite hard to determine whether the nasty hard righters outweigh the centrists. Very distrubing really.

by Lesley Ford on August 27, 2014
Lesley Ford

If no one in National is accountable, the problem must lie with the whole of the Key party. This is the inevitable conclusion and the reason that the public is right to be indignant. Every barrel has its rotten apples, but the problem, comes when the whole barrel is rotten. I've seen little to show that this isn't the case.

by Katharine Moody on August 28, 2014
Katharine Moody

Here's the follow up by Hamish Rutherford on the mistaken/misleading (?) statement by English regards debt reduction;

Explanation is that they would like to do better (at debt reduction) than the TSY forecast.

Yes, if it were Labour ..... ?

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