Something Better Than Something Worse: Why John Key could become our longest-serving Prime Minister

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IN HIS MEMORABLE holiday-home encounter with the host of Campbell Live, the Prime Minister, John Key, did not rule out running for a fourth term. Were he to be successful, the long-standing record of Sir Keith Holyoake (11 years and 2 months) would be surpassed and the title of longest-serving National Party Prime Minister would pass to the incumbent. How tempting it would then be for John Key to set his sights on “King Dick’s” (Prime Minister Richard John Seddon’s) crown of 13 years and 2 months. Just imagine that – a fifth term! By then the youthful Jacinda Ardern would be 41 years old!

Some will dismiss Key’s musings as yet another example of his celebrated political bravado. But there is another message to be drawn from his speculations concerning a fourth (or even a fifth) term. The Prime Minister’s suggestion that he and the National Party are good for another two or three election wins may also be read as his pledge to the electorate that any government he leads will be moderate and restrained in its policies.

Sir Keith Holyoake could not have governed New Zealand from November 1960 until February 1972 as anything other than a consensus-seeking prime minister. By indicating that he is not adverse to such a lengthy term of office, John Key is signalling to us that he, too, is a consensus politician.

This is significant, because consensus-seeking is not the modus operandi of the rest of the current crop of English-speaking conservatives. David Cameron, Steven Harper and Tony Abbott seem hell-bent on dividing and embittering their nations by pursuing policies that pit the well-off against the poor; the native-born against the immigrant; and the employer against the worker.

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The British, Canadian and Australian iterations of contemporary conservatism are all distinguished by a vicious Social Darwinist determination to aid the strong by assaulting the weak and stripping them of their rights. The forthcoming Australian Budget promises to put an end to “The Age of Entitlement” by radically reducing social expenditure. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, through his ruthless austerity programme, has already resurrected the “two-nations” (the Rich and the Poor) conservatism that the Conservative leader, Benjamin Disraeli, battled against in the 1860s and 70s.

Among these conservative leaders, Key stands out as a politician who, far from wishing to divide his country, strives hard to hold at least the biggest part of it together around a core of largely pragmatic political, economic and social objectives. In his role as the Kiwi “Everyman” he has cultivated the image of a friendly, practical and decidedly non-ideological leader. In this respect, he is very much a twenty-first century Holyoake – and seems determined to remain so.

Which is not to say that the National Party caucus is all of the same mind. Many who sit on the Government benches are cut from exactly the same cloth as Cameron, Harper and Abbott.

At present, the most effective exponent of the latter’s brand of “nasty” conservatism is the Justice Minister, Judith Collins. Her political behaviour embodies the disturbing propensity of nasty conservatives to not only subject the poor and the marginalised to deliberate institutional cruelty, but to then represent that cruelty as the “tough love” its victims so obviously require. It is precisely this ability to do evil with a clear conscience that makes Collins and her ilk (Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, Labour Minister, Simon Bridges) so dangerous.

Fortunately, the nasty conservative faction of National’s caucus is politically constrained by the more moderate pragmatists surrounding Key. While the Finance Minister, Bill English, and “Minister for Everything”, Steven Joyce, continue to call the shots, the “Nasties” capacity to inflict harm will remain severely limited.

So, why hasn’t Key taken advantage of Collins’ gross breaches of the Cabinet Manual’s Conflict of Interest rules to deprive the Nasties of their leader?

Principally, the answer lies in the oldest rule of politics: “Keep your friends close – and your enemies closer.” Collins cringing under the Opposition’s constant fire is preferable to Collins sitting on the back benches like a Black Widow spider plotting her revenge – especially in an election year. Should he win a third term, Key might find the image of a demoted Collins a lot more appealing.

There is also what might be called the “Hilaire Belloc” factor. Belloc is famous for writing a series of hilarious “cautionary poems” for children. In Jim, who ran away from his Nurse and was eaten by a Lion, the reader is advised to “always keep a-hold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse.” As “something worse” than John Key, Judith Collins is pretty hard to beat!

In a more serious vein, however, Key’s reluctance to move against Collins may be more diplomatic than political. So tight is the Chinese embrace of New Zealand at present, and so assiduous have Chinese businesspeople been at insinuating themselves and their companies into the political fabric of the country, that punishing Collins might well run the risk of unravelling an economic relationship that New Zealand politicians – on both sides of the House – have spent years knitting together. There may now be simply too many faces to save for the Prime Minister to give Collins the punishment she so richly deserves.

Were the boot on the other foot, Collins would not hesitate to deliver the coup de grace, but then, Judith Collins is never going to be a serious contender for the sort of political longevity John Key is contemplating – and may yet achieve.

49 COMMENTS

  1. Yuck. Practising your lines as the “approachable left-wing commentator” for September 22 coverage, Chris?

    As far as I can see, you’re just regurgitating the MSM-political narrative with a few, demotivating, “you don’t know how lucky we’ve got it” hints to the left-wing activist base.

    As for your perspective on Key being different from Cameron/Abbott/Harper, I call bullshit. Indeed, from what I read from Australia, Abbott is following a similar first-term narrative strategy to Keys, probably on account of having the same PR team (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-27/green-culture-wars-distract-from-the-abbott-non-agenda/5347034).

    • Thanks, Pigman, you saved me writing a very similar reply. As far as I can see, Key is just as nasty as any of the others mentioned. The difference is that he fronts for the barbecues and photo ops, while Parata, Bennett, Collins, Bridges, Brownlee and co do the nasty stuff. Key is a total fake, all smoke and mirrors. There is nothing consensus about him, apart from the consensus weak commentators try to invent.

    • “As for your perspective on Key being different from Cameron/Abbott/Harper, I call bullshit. Indeed, from what I read from Australia, Abbott is following a similar first-term narrative strategy to Keys, probably on account of having the same PR team (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-27/green-culture-wars-distract-from-the-abbott-non-agenda/5347034).”

      Yes, you are certainly right with that comment!

      Key can now lean back a little, having done the meanest bits of “reforms”, like selling half of many core energy company assets, having thrashed beneficiaries into yet more humiliation and constant fear, having made it so hard for poor to get legal aid, the business players, same as the state can get away with bending laws as they please, hardly anybody is able to challenge decisions now, simply for lack of funds and access to legal representation.

      Also we have supposed “watchdog” offices, like the Office of Ombudsmen, the Health and Disability Commissioner, Privacy Commissioner, and so forth, they are never making decisions that have real serious consequences for those breaching codes and rights, and at the same time, they are so underfunded, overloaded with complaints, it takes years now to have decisions made anyway. Tell me that is not intentional.

      We have employers given more rights to dictate to workers when and whether they can have breaks, we have police, WINZ and numerous other agencies able to use powers now, that include surveillance and random checks and information exchanges, we have a sold out media, who report only on stuff that the “market” sees as financially “rewarding” (in higher sensation driven ratings) or that the government does generally approve or tolerate.

      We have the GCSB now allowed to spy on New Zealanders also, not to forget.

      Maybe Key only seems less aggressive due to having done the bulk of dirty work, and relaxing a bit in his carry on, and due to New Zealand being a smaller place, where many things are not thrashed out to the absolute max?

      Chris’ take on Collins being kept under check is perhaps right, but I think it is more a case of this being the public impression only, and Collins having some hold over Key instead.

      This is not one of Chris’ “masterpieces” in writing!

  2. Another well thought out article Chris, and in all honesty it’s hard to disagree. While many on the right are disappointed and irritated by Key’s failure to take a more hard line right wing approach on some, even many, issues it is holding on to the middle ground that wins elections. This is what Key is so good at and where his pragmatism comes in. No support of the extreme policies of the Greens or the hard left policies of Labour. The good Kiwi family image he projects, such as on Campbell Live, strikes a chord with middle New Zealand. It is remarkable that despite all the problems concerning the country and his party over his term of Government he still remains so popular.

  3. God help us. I can’t figure out how the sheeples cannot see this guy was not called the smiling assassin for nothing. Oh wait, yes I can, they are sheeples

    • Well said. People on this blog and both tribal and derranged. Neither of these characteristics lend themselves to see the truth.

      Key will stroll to victory in September and potentially even in 2017 (if he wants it)

  4. Three or four years back John Armstrong pondered what John Key’s legacy would be and (if I remember correctly) threw around some stuff about being remembered as “great.” At the time I though it was presumptuous arrogant nonsense. It seemed that Key and Armstrong had decided Key was great, was destined to be great and would be remembered for being great. It was merely identifying something specific that would be his mark.

    He has the sort of demeanour and visage of a tot, all sweet, lovely and smiling, standing there all beguilement and charm but the reality is the shitty nappy. One of those really foul pooey nappies that he hopes we won’t notice. That we have to change. The smell of which we have to tolerate. To me that will be his mark.
    His ability to harness the support of others to crap all over people in our country and have those sycophants relish and delight in their role and favoured status will be remembered too.

  5. It is nice to have an explanation of why I have voted National twice now and likely in the future so long as John Key is in command … I dispair of the rest of the bunch and would switch immediately if JK was to step down … though to what I do not know because the opposition are a hopeless bunch and getting worse the longer they are on that side of the House.

  6. Oddly enough I don’t share your enthusiasm for this candidate Chris. Perhaps you read too much into preferred prime minister polls: Key may rate 60% or so but Tyrion Lannistor probably gets 90% and, like Key, he’s not even real.

    This sorry chapter ends this year in September – and it cannot come soon enough.

  7. A couple more terms of “consensus” and we’ll have assets gutted, signed over sovereignty to US corporations via the TPPA, sold off more of NZ to foreign owners (probably farmland) and done SFA about GHG reduction or handling the impacts.
    The sad part is it wouldn’t be much different under a “Labour-led” government – maybe a few less assets pawned.

  8. “Some will dismiss Key’s musings as yet another example of his celebrated political bravado. But there is another message to be drawn from his speculations concerning a fourth (or even a fifth) term. The Prime Minister’s suggestion that he and the National Party are good for another two or three election wins may also be read as his pledge to the electorate that any government he leads will be moderate and restrained in its policies. ”

    Whoops, am I “right” or wrong? I just thought I was on Kiwiblog, when reading the above and some bits in Chris’ post above. This must be a “fake” blog, as it reads like Farrar, almost at least, but the heading is a different one.

    So Key is a “moderate” and “consensus” politician? Hell, Chris Trotter did apparently not fight the ruthless welfare reforms that came in last year, did not file a submission and did not present himself before Select Committee, otherwise he should know better.

    Consensus looks a lot different to me than what we get under Key with this government! He is more like a smile and shoot mafia like assassin, than an “consensus” operator. The smile and casual chatting is the superficial surface, the reality behind it is calculating, determined and ruthless.

    Of course occasionally even mafiosis have to make deals with opponents, when a gang war cannot be won outright, that may be the kind of “consensus” that Chris had on mind.

    No, what I read above is not how the bottom in this society see things, that is at least when they have a clear mind and are not numbed by substances some need, to cope with the crap we get under NatACT rule. Manipulation and deceit that is what keeps the man as PM, and he is assisted by a complicit mainstream media. Sadly too many are very misinformed, short sighted and cannot see past the tips of their noses. Those are the ones that used to vote other parties, but have under Key started voting for National in too many numbers.

    With all such kinds of blog posts, we may as well save ourselves the spending for elections, abandon them and appoint Key as Superior Absolute Leader, to rule until the end of his days.

    How damned depressing things have become, I am sad, more than sad!

    • “…a most savage neo-liberal government”?

      You really need get a grip on reality.

      The smart trick of the Key government has been to move to the Left by wrapping their arms around most of Clark’s previous work. We’ve still got Working for Families and free student loans. We’ve got gay marriage. This is not a neo-liberal government.

      By doing this, Key has pushed Labour off into the wilderness of the extreme Left. He now owns the centre demographic.

      • Plus the Tino Rangatiratanga flag on the harbour bridge; $60 Million for Tuhoe (instead of 60 stalwart members of the Armed Constabulary); the Silver Fern flag; even more money for Maori charter schools; even more money for Kohanga Reo…

  9. Do you have that soppy picture of john key hung above your bed too Mr Trotter? Your gushy love for the man and making excuses for him over his inaction of the corruption within national’s ranks is truly repellent. You can’t hoodwink New Zealanders with a white wash like this, New Zealanders are not imbeciles. Its obvious that you are worried about the political fallout from Judith Collins, which extends to other national ministers, including john key in an election year, hence your dismissive attitude. And your irrational belief that john key will reign forever scenario, shows that desperation. Those that are up with the play have read it all before from the fanatical right wingers. How can john key win a 4th and 5th term when he hasn’t even won a 3rd term yet, and there are no guarantees that he will, particularly with obvious conflicts of interests of national ministers lining their own pockets at tax payer expense and all the wrong doings that john key and his national government have inflicted on NZ and its people. John key has been happily carving New Zealand up and flogging it off to his foreign offshore interests, China and America, and New Zealanders do not like it. I dont know what you were watching, but john key’s most unenthusiastic and somewhat vague negative response suggested that john key is over this PM gig, it doesn’t push his buttons anymore like it does for you Mr Trotter. Anyone who thinks you are of the left is sorely mistaken; you sound more akin to national’s 3 mouth pieces, Farrar, Slater and Hooton. You’re unashamedly an ardent john key supporter; after all you even made him New Zealander of year in an article you wrote late last year. Take off that left wing coat Mr Trotter, you do not deserve to wear it.

    • You are delusional, Chris. You’ve swallowed the National Party lie that Key is ‘non ideological.’ Who else but a neo liberal fanatic like Key, would have pushed thru the asset sale program against huge opposition? Every electorate in the country (except 2), voted strongly against asset sales including Key & English’s own electorates, but Key still flogged off Genesis after the referendum result. The latest Roy Morgan poll has National down to 43% – Key’s got no chance of a 3rd term….

      • It’s a piece of self-promotion – Chris offering his services as a ‘safe’ left commentator to the likes of NBR.

      • And every rightwing commentator from Matthew Hooten on down saying that “a coalition of the losers” or “a Labour minority government” will be considered illegitimate.

        • Thankfully, “Whitey”, “every rightwing commentator” will be laughed at as sore losers…

          Then we can get on with rebuilding this nation’s social infra-structure…

    • Maybe by 2100, when the global climate change has caused the seas to rise, to wash away all the baches, coastal residential homes, urban metropolitan centres, and ruined agriculture and the whole environment through hotter temperatures, endless droughts in some places, and regular flooding in others.

      The free and widespread mining, much deep sea drilling and high intensification of agriculture, same as millions more tourists dumping rubbish, and trampling over the hills and beaches, will ensure that little in the way of “clean green” will be left. 20 million Australians and many more millions of Indonesians will flood here, to seek refuge from ruined isles out west and north-west.

  10. The continuing popularity of Key is the result of a number of stars aligning very fortuitously for him and the nats. They are
    – his own political skill and rat cunning
    – decades of neo-liberal dogma that has brainwashed the masses
    – an over-worked and underpaid populace who don’t have the energy to rebel
    – the above group takes refuge in and are saturated by available escapist options, from mind-numbing reality tv shows to 24 hr sport tv
    – a compliant and unquestioning media
    – government policies that create divisions in society and weaken empathy
    – ineffective political opposition, most notably from Labour

    He is no moderate, but his mask is convincing, and we have bought it.

  11. Key is reluctant to sack Collins because he himself has been involved in the corruption, if she goes she will spill and then Key will be covered in spilt milk.

  12. Moderate? What planet are you on…think the spin doctors at Crosby/Textor have managed to put one over Trotter!

    • Yes or is it some type of hypnotism. Perhaps Trotter is embarrassed that his persecution of David Shearer may have backfired. Could you just refrain from commenting Chris until after the Election and stop doing more damage. Or take up writing for Kiwiblog.

  13. Chris, I feel you may have confused the public temperament and PR-defined demeanour of Key with the actual behaviour of his government and the brutal reality of its policies. Yes, he APPEARS to the constituency as non-ideological, as an everyman, but that’s all just on the surface – You don’t need to dig very deep to find the nastiness.

    This is what the mainstream media does so well. I’m surprised you would make such a mistake.

  14. I Think most of that is on the money Chris. The election will be won on Key’s popularity with the bulk of the electorate. If Collins ever got near being pm I believe National would fall in a heartbeat or at the next election. They are stuck for leadership once Key goes. Just ask yourself who else? Brownlee no, Parata no, Bridges no, Bennett no, a lot of screw ups by all those and not just the one offs, and none of them have any charisma at all.

    • It’s a pretty damning inditement of National’s policies and performance that without that smarmy face they are simply unelectable.

  15. Mr Trotter writes: “So, why hasn’t Key taken advantage of Collins’ gross breaches of the Cabinet Manual’s Conflict of Interest rules to deprive the Nasties of their leader?”

    Well, give it some more thought, you may get it one day.

    It is, because Key, like most top and not so top MPs and leading members of the National Party are all doing the same kind of stuff that Judith Collins has been caught out for, some just more discretely or cunningly!

    They are all either themselves involved in various businesses, as shareholders, owners, as go to persons, as recipients of “donations” for the National Party, and as socialites sharing the business lobbyist’s many dinners and functions.

    The National Party is besides of ACT the most business “friendly”, especially big business friendly party, and the tentacles of business, and also their legal expert advisors, reach right into the echelons of National. Make no doubt about it, and they know how to raise funds for the party all the time, quite legally of course, by using trust accounts, by declaring certain events “charity events” (funds “charitably” going to National), and by bending the laws and rules wherever possible.

    Once a National Minister has served his or her time, he or she will be on an unofficial candidates list for the old boys and old girls selection and appointment to top jobs in diplomacy and business.

    And then they also will be “spokespersons” whose “opinions” will be sought by mainstream media, such as from Rob Storey, boss of the trucker business lobby, to rubbish Labour and other undesired “leftist” or “madcap” policy announcements.

    That Mr Key is in it as deep as Collins, and if Labour and NZ First manage to take Collins out, then Key may be the next one to fall. Hence Key’s careful tactical maneuvers re the Oravida saga. And Key was playing golf with one leading character in there too, right? So does he only play golf with the business leaders of that company? I doubt it.

    Apart from that, Collins will be such a polarising “leader”, she will never reach the popularity of Key. Her coup of National may one day be a blessing in disguise for the opposition.

  16. Thursdays Roy Morgan poll gives credence to Chris Trotters article. This sort of beltway political issue just does not resonate with the voting public unlike trucks in the fast lane which appears to have most of the truckies voting National. I have to say I am a little perplexed at whatever the strategy of the Labour Party is.

    • Well actually, it had nothing to do with Chris Trotter’s love affair with john key, national are up in the RM poll due to the Royal visit, and wasn’t that the intention of john key’s invite to the Royals in an election year in the first place, to give national a boost with the voters. It wont last.

      • The reason the royals contributed to Nationals poll rise is because of the whinge Cunliffe had. You’ve got a real ‘whiner’ in that man.

  17. What we are witnessing here are the real dangers of psychopathy.People who are affected by it can not for the life of them see it for what it is, and will vehemently defend any suggestion that they have fallen under the spell.In some ways, not dissimilar to a battered wife continually defending her husband by saying, “but he’s a really nice guy when you get to know him.”They just can’t bring themselves to admit that they have made a terrible mistake.Apparently 50% of NewZealanders have been afflicted.

  18. A reasoned and superficially plausible article Chris, augmented by your interesting classical metaphors. Were it only a narrative it would be OK, but it’s not.

    Read again “The Hollow Men” as you and I both know that Key was at the centre of this despicable con job and indeed arguably the title drives as much from Key’s moral and principle emptiness, as anything.

    Yes the “nasties” are repulsive, but incandescent neon lit nasties are a much easier target to deal with than the camouflage fatigues of serial a con man. One who beneath the facade is a callous monster to the poor and disadvantaged and the most graphic personification of the disgustingly analy retentive to the old Anglo colonial partners in New Zealand’s foreign policy or lack thereof.

    You’ve allowed yourself to be conned Chris.Take a cold shower and wake up.

  19. It is precisely this ability to do evil with a clear conscience that makes Collins and her ilk (Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, Labour Minister, Simon Bridges) so dangerous.

    Get it right – it makes them psychopaths.

  20. Chris – where’s your piece on Labour’s transport policy?

    Or are you still shaking your head in disbelief?

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