English under the gun but Key won’t be too concerned

by Jake Quinn

The persistant questions around the Finance Minister’s actions concerning his ministerial housing allowance will really have started to bug and distract him.Labour has assigned a double hit squad, Trevor Mallard and Pete Hodgson, to target Finance Minister Bill English over his housing allowances.

But their aim is to wound him politically, not force him to resign, says Mr Mallard, who talked to the Herald yesterday about why Labour has renewed its attack six weeks after the facts around his situation emerged.
He is running a blogging campaign against Mr English and Mr Hodgson has been running a campaign in the House for the past two weeks.
Mr Mallard blogged this week on Labour’s Red Alert site that: “This story will last as long as English is a minister”, but he said the aim was not to get him to resign. “Actually we would prefer him to stay there.”
They believe Cabinet colleague Steven Joyce would do a better job for National, so politically Labour would prefer to see Mr English stay.
Mr Mallard said that whenever Mr English “gets involved in trying to cut something or talks about priorities or inappropriate expenditure or whatever he will be reminded of this”.

The persistant questions around the Finance Minister’s actions concerning his ministerial housing allowance will really have started to bug and distract him. But what would Prime Minister John Key think about the whole unsavoury affair?

Labour’s Trevor Mallard speaks to the Herald’s Audrey Young about their strategy to keep the heat on the Finance Minister:

Labour has assigned a double hit squad, Trevor Mallard and Pete Hodgson, to target Finance Minister Bill English over his housing allowances.

But their aim is to wound him politically, not force him to resign, says Mr Mallard, who talked to the Herald yesterday about why Labour has renewed its attack six weeks after the facts around his situation emerged.

He is running a blogging campaign against Mr English and Mr Hodgson has been running a campaign in the House for the past two weeks.

Mr Mallard blogged this week on Labour’s Red Alert site that: “This story will last as long as English is a minister”, but he said the aim was not to get him to resign. “Actually we would prefer him to stay there.”

They believe Cabinet colleague Steven Joyce would do a better job for National, so politically Labour would prefer to see Mr English stay.

Mr Mallard said that whenever Mr English “gets involved in trying to cut something or talks about priorities or inappropriate expenditure or whatever he will be reminded of this”.

It might seem unusual for Mr Mallard to be sharing his strategy with the Herald but it’s not. So long as he and his colleagues continue to land hits (and that seems likely as Mr Mallard says “there is more to come”, it will continue to embarrass the Deputy Prime Minister.

The media can’t blame Labour for mounting a scurrilous or secret plot against Mr English because Labour’s cards are very much on the table. If it does back fire, which looks unlikely (it would be more likely to fizzle out than backfire), Phil Goff is protected because he has been kept at arms length from it.

The Prime Minister won’t be too concerned either. After all, Mr English as Deputy PM and Finance Minister with Steven Joyce further down the cabinet list is a case of keeping your friends close and your enemies even closer.

Mr English was and remains John Key’s main competition to lead the party and has always fancied himself as the natural leader of a conservative National Party.

While Bill English has questions looming over him about how moral his actions have been, his popular Prime Minister is getting letters from Barack Obama, planning to meet the President shortly, and generally being statesmanlike.

It wouldn’t be a good look for the PM if he had to change his number 2, and i’m sure that he doesn’t want that, at least in this term.

So while Labour keeps the heat on Mr English but without landing the final death blow, Key can keep looking competent by comparison and all while keeping any hint of leadership aspiration from his deputy easily in check.