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Key may win plaudits, but the battle honours go to Clark.

Posted by watchingcyfswatchnewzealand on May 3, 2007

As posted on CYFSWATCH NZ

Key may win plaudits, but the battle honours go to Clark.
Thursday, 03.05.2007, 08:22am (GMT12)

John Armstrong: Key may win plaudits, but the battle honours go to Clark

5:00AM Thursday May 03, 2007
By John Armstrong

John Key will win huge and deserved plaudits for sacrificing National’s political advantage on the anti-smacking legislation for the sake of ensuring a belated, but much-needed parliamentary consensus on the most heated and divisive issue of the day. But he would not want to make a habit of it.

As much as he has helped himself, he has probably helped the Government more.

For all the smiles and mutual back-slapping at yesterday’s joint press conference which saw Mr Key and the Prime Minister in rare unity, the occasion doubled as a lesson in why the Opposition must essentially be about opposition.

Being hugged by the Prime Minister – as National’s leader was in the metaphorical sense – is to be trapped in a deadly embrace.

The real winner from the extraordinary Helen Clark-John Key double act is Helen Clark.

Her compromise amendment to the anti-smacking bill has got Labour out of the hole she dug for her party when she weighed in so heavily behind Sue Bradford’s measure.

Not only has she moved to allay parents’ fears the police might prosecute for even a light smack, in getting National to sign up to her compromise and u-turn on its opposition, she has ensured the smacking debate will no longer cloud this month’s Budget. Longer-term and even more crucially, she has shoved smacking off the agenda at election-time next year.

National will argue Labour has already suffered extensive electoral damage by cracking the caucus whip and casting a bloc vote. Having now come in behind the bill, National will find it difficult to resurrect smacking as an election issue.

Unquestionably, Mr Key will get some spin-off. It will have enhanced his credentials as potential prime ministerial material. It sends a message that he is solutions-driven. By standing alongside the old enemy, National indicates it is flexible and can work with other parties in the MMP environment.

Apart from bipartisan occasions such as state luncheons, it is extremely rare for Labour and National leaders to share a platform. The last such time in recent memory was for the signing of the multi-party superannuation accord in 1993.

It is easy to see why. The net effect is to get Governments off a hook and deprive Opposition parties of a valuable vehicle of attack.

Helen Clark would not have invited Mr Key to join her if she thought he would benefit the most. His presence and her flooding him with compliments instead helped her neutralise the issue.

Having successfully posed as a statesman-like mediator last week, Mr Key could hardly ditch that role because it suddenly did not suit.

Helen Clark’s amendment deals with National’s prime concern that normally law-abiding parents might be turned into criminals. Again, Mr Key had no choice but to accept her compromise which gives the police discretion not to prosecute “inconsequential” offences.

His attempted mediation and the publicity that generated would have stuck in Helen Clark’s craw. That may have spurred her to find a compromise as much as needing to get the bill off the agenda.

Her real good fortune was Mr Key’s search for a compromise was not successful. Had he found one, she would have been left high and dry.

She was successful. That enabled her to push him into a corner. Once the cheering and congratulations subside, Mr Key might be well advised to remember that.

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