OPINION: WILL the real John Key please stand up? Or has he already left the building? Where is the man whose common-sense grasp of crises both real and perceived, and relaxed, everyman touch proved such a hit in 2008 and during the first term of his National Government?
If Mr Key's sound judgement and understanding of his constituents were to the fore when National ditched its hugely unpopular move on classroom sizes, they have been noticeably absent of late.
In two very different fields the prime minister appears to not only have misread the tea leaves of disquiet and opposition but to have failed the test of history and made matters worse in the misreading.
His legacy is under threat from the dangerous undercurrents and murky depths evident in the water-rights fiasco.
And his steadfast refusal to even acknowledge John Banks' slippery grasp of truth and disclosure is undermining faith in his previously peerless judgment.
Both Mr Key and Mr Banks might have it right that the moral quicksand they find themselves in will soon become firmer footing and that commentators and the public will quickly tire and move on.
But the prime minister's handling of the asset-sales drama and the water-rights saga that is quickly rotting the planks of his major-policy platform has been highly questionable, surprising and possibly even dangerous.
Mr Key appears to have misjudged the depth of feeling not only within the Maori community over rights to water but also the general public in associated opposition to the sale of power companies who would claim access to that water.
The Government's attempts to divide and conquer Maoridom by playing on mistrust for the Maori Council and appealing to individual affected iwi seems to have had the opposite effect: harnessing the strength of Maori unity in opposition to the Crown's flippant treatment of ethnic institutions and perceived rights.
And Maori are likely to find unusual allies in that opposition.
Many Pakeha may balk at claims to water rights and preferential treatment in share issues, but as letter writer Dale Copeland today points out, Maori have succeeded where petitions and countless protests have not: putting a halt, for the time being at least, to asset sales.
That represents an early round advantage to Maori and sale opponents.
And a stunning setback to both National and its coalition with the Maori Party. Which is ironic given that the latter was born on the back of similar turmoil involving the seabed and foreshore legislation.
That particular scrap represented a low-water mark for Helen Clark's government, a misjudgment that would later become an important marker in an outgoing political tide.
Mr Key is struggling against a similar tidal shift. Unless he can turn that momentum of Maori and public opinion and harness the tricky political currents, his asset sales will be sunk.
Along with his political legacy.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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