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John Key: The honeymoon 'is over'

Monday 8 Apr 2013 8:50 a.m.

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Prime Minister John Key's honeymoon with the public is over, according to political commentator Bryce Edwards.

Speaking on Firstline this morning, the University of Otago lecturer said Mr Key last week showed the "most appalling political management since he became Prime Minister back in 2008".

"Never before have we seen a Prime Minister so keen to get out of the country," says Dr Edwards.

Last week it was revealed Mr Key had personally shoulder-tapped an old school friend to head the country's spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, after denying he had anything to do with the appointment process.

During an interview on RadioLIVE on Friday he let his frustrations rip, calling journalists "knuckleheads" over the reporting of the issue.

Dr Edwards says the Prime Minister's outburst was a "crazy thing to say".

"The media have been doing their job, and for him just to lash out at them I think just shows how rattled he is. It might immediately not be a big deal, and some people will respond favourably to him being strong about the media.

"But over time, I think this will damage him because he needs to keep the confidence of the media, and finally that honeymoon I think is over now – with the media and the public, to some extent – because it's an issue of trustworthiness.

"People do trust him to be a straight-talker and to tell the truth, and people are a lot less clear that that's what's happened in this situation."

Dr Edwards says it's not Mr Key's "behind the scenes" dealing that will damage his brand, but the subsequent "cover-up".

"As usual with these scandals, it's not the so-called 'crime' in the first place… it's the cover-up. It's how the politician handles things, and he's handled it appallingly, and the consensus seems to be that he's lied in Parliament and he's lied to the media – at least, he hasn't told the truth.

"The public don't like that. The public don't like their Prime Minister to be a liar."

Despite this, "Teflon John" – as some call him – isn't likely to take an immediate hit in the polls.

"We're not about to see any immediate dip in his support or for the Government I don't think, but it will be very corrosive," says Dr Edwards.

"This is the Government's integrity at stake here, and Labour have been running a line for a long time that there's something dodgy about John Key and it hasn't really resonated that well until recently. But when you put it together with deals over SkyCity and many other things, it looks like he's not really very good at process, and that he perhaps does things a bit dodgily behind the scenes.

"I think that will start to resonate with the public."

Mr Key is currently in China, and raised eyebrows on the weekend by suggesting New Zealand would back any US-led war with Chinese ally North Korea. This morning he backtracked on those comments, saying any suggestion New Zealand troops could be deployed was "so far off the planet".

Dr Edwards says diplomacy is not Mr Key's strongest area.

"This visit has a lot to do with economics, trade, exports, and John Key is a good trader. He's good at doing these deals for New Zealand. He's good at visiting and having face-time with a number of international people.

"I think where he's on more dangerous ground is on international diplomacy and international conflicts. He'll do well on the economics, the trade, but he's already mis-stepping a bit in getting into the Korean conflict and it would be a shame if that's the main outcome of this visit, where he ends up escalating things between South and North Korea, and committing New Zealand to a war there.

"That's not his solid ground, so he should be wary of that area."

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called New Zealand "old friends".

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