Nov 2, 2008

Ralston On The H-Fee Bomb

Bill Ralston looks at the importance of the so-called neutron bomb to Labour's re-election strategy and what it means for Labour now that the bomb has blown up in Labour's face.

Helen Clark's tumble over the furniture in the Riccarton Mall last week was not the only slip-up she made.
Far worse for her was the misfire of Labour's long awaited "neutron bomb" designed to take out John Key.
Labour has been sniffing around the 20-year-old saga of the H-Fee for at least a year, dropping hints for most of that time to journalists that it had Key "dead to rights".
It was to be the last-minute "ankle tap" on National, designed to collapse its vote in the same way the Exclusive Brethren affair did to Don Brash at the last election.
Labour became such believers in the power of this "scandal" that it became a central part of its election strategy.
The use of the word "trust" in Labour's slogan is there because the H-Fee affair was planned to detonate 10 days from the election and make voters see plainly that they could not trust Key.
Other smaller neutron bombs were also planned to discredit other National MPs and complete the rout.

Was Clark Involved?

Helen Clark immediately went into her usual damage control mode by putting as much distance between herself and it as possible.
Labour's desperate digging for dirt where there was none was instantly labelled "Mike's Crusade" by the Beehive. Once again, Labour president Mike Williams is being hung out to dry.
Clark admits she knew what he was doing but implies he was doing it on his own initiative.
Yet Williams and the Clark are in daily communication about all aspects of the campaign and it beggars belief that she would not have the same firm hand on this vital element of Labour's strategy as she does on every other part of what Labour is doing.
As members of the taxpayer-funded Government Research Unit were being used to analyse the documents that had been dug up, it is impossible to believe Williams was acting alone.
For Williams to use members of the Government Research Unit then presumably either the Prime Minister's office or one of her senior ministers, such as Pete Hodgson, must have authorised their use.
There can be no doubt the H-Fee neutron bomb was designed to be the cornerstone of Labour's secret campaign strategy.

So what will the electoral impact be?

New Zealanders have an innate sense of fair play and this latest grubby attempt to smear Key will not win Labour any votes and will help swing sympathy to the National Party leader.
The tragedy is that Helen Clark is a brilliant campaigner who does not need dirty tricks and smear campaigns to help her win. She has proved that at every election since 1990.
The fizzer of a neutron bomb also distracts us from a very good range of initiatives Labour has put together to fight the coming dark days of the international financial crisis.
It only further distracts voters from the real issue of deciding which party has the best deal for them.
Labour forgot the one big message that is heard every October in the run-up to Guy Fawke's night. Do not play with fireworks, they can blow up in your face.