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Molesworth & Featherston (Weekend) – March 4th 200

Molesworth & Featherston - Weekend Update edition

Business and Political News
March 4th 2006

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Updated Report
The autumn of David Benson-Pope

The signs are that David Benson-Pope will hang on to his job. Helen Clark has not given any indication she will drop him. The week ends with the opposition having over-reached in parliament. First Rodney Hide announced he would go to the police. That will only shift the focus away from serious allegations of misleading the House, and back to the trivial substantive allegations. Then the opposition in the House called Mr Benson-Pope a ‘bully’, a ‘liar’ and a ‘pervert.’ Pervert? The expression demeans its user when it describes a genuine child molester like Graham Capill. It is ugly and wrong in this context.

But Labour has been leaden-footed in exploiting the opening the opposition left it. Its handling of the affair throughout has looked careless and slow.

With Helen Clark’s media chief taking control, Mr Benson- Pope finally fronted on Thursday and all media were at last given interviews. The mixture of apologies, explanations and stories about the effects on his family are designed to humanise him.

The government seemed distracted when the stories first broke. Comments defending Mr Benson-Pope mostly carry an out-clause. There was an air of backsides being covered justin- case Plan A fails. Helen Clark appears to have adopted the Bolger strategy she privately ridiculed in Opposition: toughing out the attacks. Maybe now she has been through the wringer herself a couple of times she has more sympathy for besieged ministers. Or maybe she feels vulnerable about appearing to hold others to a higher standard than she held herself. So for now the PM and senior ministers are backing B-P, saying he is an honest man and the allegations do not warrant the removal of his warrant.

The questions may continue next week, but the opposition, which showed almost unprecedented focus and teeth early in the story's life, will need to handle itself better next week as well. If it does, then we know the pattern -- sometime soon the PM will try to take back control of the story. Media will be quietly told she has decided to act and shortly afterward the minister will be informed.

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