Class-size fiasco drowns out royal slam dunk

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 09:58 10/06/2012
HEKIA PARATA:
MAARTEN HOLL/Dominion Post
HEKIA PARATA: "We are reversing the decision."

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Normally, a trip abroad by the prime minister brings an abundance of good news.

Today though, as John Key wings his way home from a European tour, there is little for him to cheer.

His stops across a clutch of European centres have yielded less than he might have hoped.

Another brush with the Queen, on the happy occasion of her diamond jubilee, was an absolute slam-dunk good news story.

Even climbing into the maelstrom of Europe's economic mess had upsides. Key likes nothing more than to talk global finance with heavy hitters and the trailing media pack, and his team believes economic credibility is his strong suit. His running commentary on the global economy and New Zealand's place in it hums along to the wider electorate like background music.

But the banter was drowned out by the class-size cock-up. The unfolding U-turn in Wellington meant Key's London adventures seemed somehow less tolerable, because there was little to choose from his meetings with Cameron, Rasmussen and Merkel, and the main impression left was of yet more glee at the Duchess of Cambridge again promising to visit, and of a gift of cheese and beetroot pickle for the Queen.

There's no harm in any of that, but any gains are surely diminishing. National must be anxious if that's the case.

The political magic of Key's personal appeal is not so much National's trump card, as its only card.

The globetrotting, Queen- friendly Key ranks somewhere alongside the welfare-reforming Key for maximum effect. If his impact continues to decline, there's real trouble.

Key is a poll-watcher by nature and kept an eye out for an expected post-Budget backlash.

It arrived in a four point sag in the TVNZ poll, and is expected to show again tonight in another poll, whispered about as "game-changing".

But Key's approval ratings would have to travel south over a number of months before he crashed completely.

He did what was needed to disarm the class-size policy fiasco, and some argue his efforts showed it might have even been possible to hold the line, albeit with some damage.

That just goes to show the prime minister is far from a spent force yet, but when his well finally runs dry, National's will too.

john.hartevelt@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

Twitter: @jhartevelt

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