Humiliating backdown, but damage done

  • 07/06/2012

By Political Editor Duncan Garner

Hekia Parata was sporting a new haircut as she backed down on her controversial move to make class sizes bigger - but it couldn't disguise the complete humiliation.

The backdown was the only option. And not even the Government was trying to spin it as anything else. Good on them for that. And it's clear John Key told Parata from Europe to cut the Government's losses. But the praise stops there.

Hook, line and sinker - the Government's collective gonads have been squeezed and cut off by middle New Zealand for this woeful misjudgment.

Cautious mum and dad voters, that Key has spent four years carefully wooing back after years of mistrust with the two main parties, were leading the march with the teachers and the kids.

And for the hopelessly small sum of saving $43m a year, his Government has scared so many of them off.

Whether they return, who knows?

But the feedback I've had is that National got this so very wrong.

They struck at the heart of the frontline they promised so many times not to touch. And they messed with the frontline that really counts - the classrooms where our young teenagers learn how to cook and bang nails.

Collectively the Cabinet's eyes were off the ball. It's because in term two - National has become cocky and in some ways arrogant. They thought they could get away with a host of what appeared to be small across the board cuts that meant not a hell of a lot. But they were found out. They were too lazy and incompetent to do the hard work before the Budget.

So what now? Parata's credibility is in tatters. Bill English and Key also need to share the load of responsibility. They run the show.

And what about the Government's $197m surplus it's promising in 2014/15. Now these savings of more than $100m over four years are to be ditched - is the surplus more vulnerable?

You'd have to say so.

But I tell you what's more vulnerable - National's grip on power.

They stepped into the ring with middle New Zealand and got knocked out.

They stumbled around for two weeks - before the final blow today.

And many of those mums and dads will not return to National.

That will hurt in 2014.

Key needs to re-establish trust with the electorate all over again.

It makes Michael Cullen's back down on the chewing gum tax cuts seven years ago look miniscule.

What a price to pay for Key, English and National. 

So credit for backing down.

And credit for not spinning it.

But trust and credibility is hard to gain and harder to keep in politics. 

It's called political capital. And Key and National just spent a pile of it.

The damage has been done.

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