John Key has managed that rarest of feats.
He has succeeded in strong-arming out of Parliament an MP who had become a headache and liability. Many of his predecessors will watch and weep. Disgraced MPs are notoriously difficult to dislodge. Most will fight tooth-and-nail to retain the comfort of a seat in Parliament, even when it means a life of notoriety and shame.
The last MP to heap embarrassment on National, Brian Connell, lingered on for a year or more after he was booted unceremoniously out of caucus. Labour's constant headache, Taito Philip Field, never let embarrassment over fraud charges overwhelm his grim determination to remain in Parliament till the bitter end.
Yet Mr Key manoeuvred Richard Worth out in record time. It's a further demonstration, if any was needed, that there is steel beneath the boy-next-door charm. It was only a short time ago that John Key celebrated his six-month anniversary as prime minister. It is early to be coping with a Richard Worth-scale crisis. But governments have no control over when bad news rears its head. They can only try to manage the fallout.
Indeed. Managing the fallout last week and early this week didn't cast Key or National in the best of lights. But when the worm turned, and the true story came out, Key stayed on the sidelines. He will not have been damaged by any of the revelations of the last few days.
Not so Phil Goff. With rapier-like thrusts of her pen, Watkins slices, dices and dissects the motives and performance of the opposition leader. She begins thus:
Was it a coincidence that Mr Goff's phone call weeks after the alleged harassment stopped came not long after the first signs that Dr Worth was becoming a ministerial liability?
Mr Goff says it took that long for the woman to summon the courage to have her case put before the prime minister. But Mr Goff overplayed his hand. First by insisting on the moral high ground by claiming that it was Mr Key, not himself, who placed the harassment allegations in the public arena. Taken at face value he is right but Mr Key only referred to the matter publicly after he was confronted with informed questions by a journalist. Clearly someone wanted the information out there. It comes down to who would benefit most.
Over at Kiwiblog, DPF reckons that Goff's office dropped strong hints to the Press Gallery as to what questions they should ask the PM when the story broke - Watkins' "informed questions" comment seems to confirm that. Clearly Goff wanted the mud to stick to Key and National. Watkins continues:
Meanwhile Mr Goff milked the woman's status as an immigrant who was confused and distraught at Dr Worth's intentions. When first asked by The Dominon Post if he knew the woman before she came to him, Mr Goff agreed he had, but only for a short time. By the next day, he had put it out there that she was a Labour Party member. When she was revealed this week as Auckland woman Neelam Choudary, it became clear she was no low-level member. She is prominent in Auckland Labour Party circles. The image of a frightened and traumatised woman doesn't square with the recollections of reporters who came across her regularly on the campaign trail with Helen Clark.
Nor does it square with some of Mr Goff's colleagues. The woman described as "strikingly beautiful" by Mr Goff is forthright and supremely confident, according to some. Her husband was convicted of an immigration scam.
National denies putting Ms Choudary's name out there. But its emergence clearly did the Government's cause no harm after days of squabbling over who said what in the aftermath of that call between Mr Goff and Mr Key.
Mr Goff should have focused on the jobs-for-favours claims. If proven, they are a clearcut abuse of ministerial power. But he played up the victim angle instead and over-egged the salaciousness of Dr Worth's texts to Ms Choudary. It blew up in his face. Disastrously for Mr Goff, his political instincts deserted him just as Mr Key was rediscovering his.
Once again, indeed! And once the dust has settled over Mt Albert (which we must pretend does not exist today!), we suspect that there will be a lot of korero going on amongst those in the Labour caucus who agree with Tracy Watkins. Even though we are headed for the depths of winter, we suggest that there might be a few BBQ invitations doing the rounds, and maybe even a hangi or two.