Tea stains may be hard to shake

16:00, Nov 17 2011

The teapot tape fiasco is rapidly spiralling out of National's control.

If John Key had not gone to the police and instead allowed his usual pragmatism to reassert itself, the tape would be out by now and the story would probably have died.

But like the Exclusive Brethren saga, which was peeled open day by excruciating day on the campaign trail in 2005, there is just enough new information coming out each day to keep giving the story legs.

The sight of police seizing documents from media organisations which have footage of the teapot tape meeting between John Key and John Banks will sustain the story through the final days of the campaign next week.

National is banking on voters being more turned off by the media's actions than the prime minister's response.

But as the revelations over what was said continue to be drip-fed, voters are also entitled to question Mr Key's judgment in failing to stick to polite chit-chat during a carefully orchestrated photo-opportunity for which the prime minister's office had sought maximum publicity.


There was so much concern about the potential for it to be derailed by National's opponents that the venue was moved when the location of the "cuppa tea" was mistakenly published by Fairfax.

In the end it was Mr Banks' and Mr Key's loose lips that derailed it.

The latest One News and TV3 polls last night suggest National has suffered little collateral damage; both had National still sitting above 50 per cent in the polls, though the 3News poll showed National's support taking a ding of about 3 per cent.

But National is learning once again that a week can be a long time in politics. Should more damaging revelations emerge than those that have been publicly speculated on, then Mr Key's actions in instigating such a heavy-handed response will be judged in that light.

It will rightly be seen as the prime minister exercising the power of his office to clamp down on embarrassing information before a critical election.

His suggestion, meanwhile, that the swiftness of the police response was due to them having more spare time on their hands is a serious misjudgment that will be greeted with derision.

The problem now is that in backing himself into such a tight corner over the release of the tapes Mr Key is hamstrung should his opponents – notably Winston Peters – start hinting that worse is to come.

The longer the fiasco drags on, the more questions there will be in the public mind over why Mr Key won't just authorise the release of the tapes and put an end to the silliness, especially now that it is headed to court.

It is one thing to stand on your high horse; it is quite another to derail an election campaign for the sake of principle over a conversation that Mr Key has repeatedly insisted on describing as bland.

Eventually, the view will take root that where there is smoke there is bound to be fire.

The Dominion Post