Key pushes the democracy button

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 05:00 22/08/2014

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OPINION: John Key has decided his latest problem is actually our problem.

After more than a week fending off Dirty Tricks accusations with the mantra that it is a Left-wing smear campaign, the prime minister has shifted tack.

First there was the acknowledgement his justice minister was "unwise" in her dealings with attack blogger Cameron Slater. It was a small nod towards the unease over Judith Collins' actions without giving ground on the supposed "black ops" tactics of his adviser Jason Ede.

But yesterday, perhaps realising there is only so much mileage in seeking sympathy for his Government - or the even less appealing plea to fairness - "we all do it" - Key decided to reframe his woes as an even bigger problem for the voters.

There was, he effectively suggested, an assault on democracy going down.

Without a hint of irony, he asked voters to see the smears as "an attempt to beat a government that can't be beaten on policy so has to be beaten by making false accusations".

Perhaps National's focus group work has picked up a shift in sentiment against his Government but Nicky Hager's book, and the drip-feed of Slater's hacked emails, has become - according to Key - an attempt to subvert the true will of the people.

The polls will now start coming thick and fast, and the next round will show whether his concerns, at least for his own Government's survival, are warranted.

Key's standing is crucial to his Government's edge, and early indications from a poll out today are that his popularity has taken a significant hit, though from a stellar high.

Maybe that explains a new edge to Key's usual joshing with reporters on the road in Christchurch yesterday.

He says he will continue to answer the questions media ask, but he is clearly getting frustrated that his daily media slots are still dominated by queries about dirty politics.

If that continues for another couple of days, his official campaign launch on Sunday, and the release of a policy he says will be "really important to New Zealanders", will be overshadowed.

And that is John Key's next problem.

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