Case of history repeating itself?
The striking similarities between the Helen Clark and John Key governments continue to unfold.
In both cases, after nine years of the previous Government, a landslide victory gave Clark and Key first terms in which they could do no wrong, and a hapless new leader of the Opposition who could do nothing right.
Then, in the second term almost everything suddenly began to go wrong and the Opposition changed its leader.
In both cases, the Opposition brought in a likeable fellow who everyone said was a nice guy, but no politician. It remains to be seen whether David Shearer can do what Don Brash just failed to manage and topple the Government at the end of its second term.
Even with hindsight, it is difficult to see the tipping point for the Clark administration, where hard-edged competence came to be seen as cold arrogance.
Similarly with Key, future historians may struggle to pinpoint just when the public began to regard his easy-going manner as a mask for an inner, empty complacency.
As yet, the polls do not indicate a mass rejection of either the Gov- ernment or its leader but the second term blues have certainly hit the current Government with a vengeance.
Since the Parliamentary year began in February, there has barely been a week without a selfinflicted crisis, whether it be in ACC, the Foreign Affairs Ministry or with the Government’s hapless coalition partner, ACT.
Meanwhile, up to 75 per cent of the public continue to oppose asset sales, which the Government has made the signature policy of its second term.
A sense of competence is an elusive thing in politics.
New Zealanders can cope with a fair level of arrogance so long as they feel there is a safe pair of hands minding the store.
It was not as if Robert Muldoon for instance, got any more or less likeable over the years – it was only when the myth of his competence became seriously in question that his administration started to unravel.
So far, only the usual suspects on the Left and the hardliners on the Right are questioning Key’s apparent lack of any coherent plan for economic growth.
If and when that disquiet spreads further, Key could well find himself facing the same trouble as his political doppelganger, David Cameron, now faces in Britain.
‘‘It is one thing to be heartless,’’ as British Labour leader Ed Milliband recently put it, ‘‘but if you are heartless and hopeless, you are in trouble.’’
Exactly. For most of the first term of the Key Government, the Opposition tried to portray Key as being heartless – a charge that patently didn’t fit the easy-going, ever-responsive Prime Minister.
Yet as memories of its own record in office fade, Labour and its new leader have far more chance of making the ‘‘hopeless’’ part of the accusation stick.
But is Shearer the man to drive home that harsh ‘‘heartless/hopeless’’ verdict? Possibly not. In which case, the uncanny parallels could continue.
After all, the replacement for the ‘‘nice try, but not good enough’’ Brash was Key, his lieutenant on economic policy.
Similarly, Shearer’s lieutenant on economic development is David Cunliffe, who looks more than capable right now of nailing the Government’s alleged sins of incompetence.