Politicians swap barbs over royal jockeying

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Last updated 05:00 09/04/2014

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OPINION: The royals had a day off to recover from jet lag yesterday, but it didn't stop politicians from jostling and digging each other in the ribs over who would meet Wills and Kate - and how often.

Labour leader David Cunliffe tried to keep it classy by saying Labour was positive about the visit and welcoming the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (whom Prime Minister John Key in a characteristic verbal slip started to call "the Dutch and Dukess" before catching himself).

But despite saying "we are not going to play politics with it", Cunliffe could not resist a swipe at Key, suggesting he was milking the extra "face time" with Prince William and his wife, compared with his own limited meetings.

Giving Key credit for more influence than most small-nation leaders, he even suggested a possible visit to the White House was "pre-election PR from the prime minister" who was "stage-managing the calendar of the year as it suits him".

Cunliffe said it was important the glad-handing was as even-handed as possible - but it wasn't.

At last count he has three opportunities to meet and greet the royals, against Key's seven, including the tarmac welcome and farewell and a private dinner.

Apart from a one-on-one meeting with Prince William, Cunliffe has been invited to events in Blenheim and to a state reception, with all MPs and their guests.

He said he would let the people draw their own conclusion if that was fair. "I guess he likes the camera time," he said of the prime minister's royal shoulder-rubbing.

Key, however, believed his own programme showed due restraint. He would not be at the "vast, overwhelming" number of events.

"I don't actually think anyone's going to vote National, Labour or any other political party because we're seen standing next to the royals," he said.

"They vote on the economy, law and order, health and education. As soon as David Cunliffe starts talking about that and not this sort of rubbish, he might do a little bit better."

But the last and best word went to veteran MP Winston Peters, who called for his colleagues to show "a bit of elegance and a bit of taste" rather than chasing photo opportunities with the royals.

"I'm starting to feel really sorry for baby George and it's only day one. I just would hope we don't see this obsequious subservient photo-opportunity behaviour. You can guarantee I won't be part of it."

Peters believed he had no "face time" with the royals, although all the party leaders (including co-leaders in the case of the Greens and the Maori Party) have been invited to the welcoming line at the state reception.

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Recalling Key's embarrassing "three-way handshake" at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Peters said: "You are going to have a multiple handshake now, possibly of five people at a time," conjuring an image of the royal party with Key and Cunliffe all-hands-in like a high school basketball team.

- The Dominion Post

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