Reality is... special place a lonely planet

JOHN KEY: National's spin doctor needs tonic.
JOHN KEY: National's spin doctor needs tonic.

Prime Minister John Key paid a visit to his special place last week: It's green and plentiful, but isolated and inhabited by a precious few.

Planet Key is wonderful. Sure, he liked the Chatham Islands, which were also graced with his presence towards the end of the week. But Planet Key is Nirvana.

It's possible the PM is giving a lot of thought to retiring to Planet Key, where the only Greens are on the golf courses. He certainly seems jaded.

On the map of Planet Key, Epsom is covered by a verdant fairway. There is no John Banks or Kim Dotcom.

He spent the week answering for the ACT leader. Only on Planet Key does Banks look like an 'honest man' over the Dotcom donations scandal. For a man so adept at judging the public mood, being so out of step is alien for Key.

Planet Key came into being when the Greens challenged him on a universal child benefit. It's politically easy - but wrong - to accuse National of ignoring child poverty. However, when tested on the subject Key has an unfortunate tendency to come across either dismissive or flippant.

Opining about what the needy need, while flashing his enormous Breitling watch and waxing lyrical about golf courses, doesn't help.

A public-relations own goal over the closure of Canterbury schools, served only to make the government look heartless. While Labour stole a march with its food and reading recovery proposal, National failed in the one area where even its critics admit the Nats excel: spin.

Add to that the loss of several hundred jobs in the past few weeks. The disaster of lay-offs in two areas plighted by tragedy, the West Coast and Kawerau, pulled at the public heart strings. Key's messages on growth are increasingly drowned out by the protests of exporters, crippled by the high dollar, and the growing unemployed.

And journalists have noticed the phrase 'but the reality is...' has replaced 'I'm relaxed about...' in the prime minister's lexicon.

Admittedly, Key has kept up a punishing schedule in recent weeks, shuttling from Rarotonga, to Russia and on to Japan. Picking at his teeth and playing with his watch, he looked uncharacteristically bored as he sat through his second powhiri in as many hours on the Chatham Islands on Thursday.

By day two, he had reignited the Key charm to mingle with the locals, but the elan of the election campaign trail has noticeably vanished at the wrong time.

The tussle of the Maori water rights issue has only begun. National needs its top salesman back on form to get the asset sales programme back on track. It could just be jetlag, but watchers are starting to question whether the prime minister is looking for a permanent home on Planet Key before the 2014 election.

Sunday Star Times