Key’s departure raises many questions and gives no answers



Holy shit!

Of everything to say, that has to be said first. Not only is John Key’s resignation completely unexpected, it’s unprecedented and so far pretty much unexplainable.

It’s the biggest thing I can think of that has happened in Aotearoa politics without having an obvious cause (that we know about). No known significant tensions in the caucus. No real indication that his chances of getting a fourth term were any different than any other point this term. No scandals spinning out of control, no great perception of dire economic crises (despite their existence), no serious current threats for National’s polling. No nothing, really.

‘Resigning to spend more time with the family’ is a clichéd euphemism for ‘I was forced out’ or ‘I obviously couldn’t stay on’ in most situations.  It’s a cop out, and it works because it symbolises that the departing knows they did wrong, they are accepting it, and from now they won’t be around to make any more mistakes so stop asking, thank you very much.

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But that’s the entire explanation we have. He’s widely touted as the most popular PM ever, the National Party brand is almost exclusively built around him (“I’m a Key person” one election, “Team Key” the next), he is by most accounts the National Party’s best campaign asset by far, and he’s standing down because he’s had enough. Call it a good innings at eight years. The end of the day has finally come.

I basically just don’t believe it. And that doesn’t mean I back any particular speculation around as yet unknown reasons that might have led to the decision. It’s just, well, unbelievable.

The decision is so shocking that we have to ask some basic questions while unpacking John Key’s moves here. For starters, does he think his departure will be good for the National Party, or bad?

Bad, you would think, for the reasons stated above and across most of the comment so far. But it doesn’t sit right with me to think that John Key would intentionally harm the National Party because he was simply over it. Surely more time with Bronagh could wait maybe a year and a bit for the good of their party’s chances.

Maybe he thinks it will be good for National. Good in the long run, because refreshing the leadership at just the right time could mean their potential government next term is not as severely affected by the very rare disease of fourth-term-itis, with complications relating to a Winston Peters infection.

Or maybe he thinks his departure will be good for National before the election next year. It could be any of the number of theories about bombshells to come, his steadily decreasing popularity in the preferred PM polls, or the queues for selfies that he has reported are getting shorter each outing. But it seems so unlikely that whatever wind-down of his honeymoon period we might be finally beginning to see, his assessment would be that National would be stronger without the Key the public knows today than with him.

He’s endorsing Bill English for PM, so the move probably isn’t an act of falling on his sword early in the face of some serious government explaining to do on the near horizon. English is every bit as responsible for the state of the country as Key is.

So maybe as he says, he couldn’t bring himself to stare down the barrel of the camera and lie to us about being 100% committed to a fourth term. I find that pretty hard to believe when he’s happily lied to us plenty of times before, including arguably all year on this very issue.

Lots of maybes. One thing’s for sure – we can now stop saying “John Key will do anything to stay in power.” Turns out, he’s pretty relaxed about that, too.

What I really don’t understand is the mass congratulations he is given for going out on his own terms, quitting because he feels like it. This isn’t the same thing as Brendan McCullum and Ritchie McCaw quitting while world champions. Although I’m sure Key would love that comparison.

The move should be infuriating to the people that supported him, donated to him, volunteered for him, idolised him. Anyone who gives Key credit for anything they think is good about New Zealand should be very disappointed in him abandoning them.

The rich love what Key has done for them. He’s given them skyrocketing property values, a top bracket tax cut, new employment tools to exploit the working class with, and much more, doing it all with a goofy smile and maintaining the Middle New Zealand Vote. Their champion stood down, probably making it much easier for those parties that think inequality is actually a bad thing to take control. He did it to hang out with his wife. Why doesn’t she just come down to Wellington more, and take a few more holidays for a bit? The supporters should be livid.

Imagine Helen Clark standing down while Labour were doing well to spend more time with Peter. Different personal and political environments, but it’s the same job with the same duty and responsibilities. For Clark, such a move would have been the destruction of her reputation. Key is just so damn casual that he seems to be getting a free pass from his own supporters for deciding to head off a bit early to beat the traffic.

I hope his resignation as PM also voids his credentials as chief political and social commentator, All Blacks locker room creeper, pop music radio cringe inducer and the rest of it. Despite English sharing Key’s neoliberal agenda, at least he’s a bit more elegant about it.

Of course if 2016 has its way, we may well be living under the oppressive new regime of Prime Minister Crusher Collins next week.  She hasn’t ruled out running at time of writing. If there’s anything that could make the rest of us miss Key, that would probably be it.


  1. John Key’s resignation leaves many people dazed and confused because career politicians don’t do that. You have to prize their cold dead fingers from the levers of power. For most, it’s the best paid job that they’ll ever get.

    We really need term limits. 12 years and out. No government boards, meal ticket diplomatic appointments after parliament. Power is corrupting.

    • Like the Americans.

      5 years is I think their maximum. After that , a new leader. Also any Defence personnel have to wait 7 years after they have left the service before they can be appointed as a govt official in any high office.

      We have paid a terrible price for being slack and overly casual and enabling a character like Key to have done what he did to us.

      And then blithely ditch the place – with or without accountability for his actions.

      • Americans have 8 years (two terms of 4 years). But the rest of their government is unrestricted (i.e. House Representatives and Senators – both packed to the gills with career politicians).

  2. That’s pretty much what I think about it too.
    Rather than face up to what his government has neglected: child poverty, homelessness, home unaffordability, the environment, blatant underfunding of government departments – he takes the easy way out and quits.
    Although they will never admit it – National supporters must be feeling pretty gutted about their messiah quitting on them.
    “So long and thanks for all the fish”.

  3. Quote: “Of course if 2016 has its way, we may well be living under the oppressive new regime of Prime Minister Crusher Collins next week..”

    Bring it on. She is unelectable and would consign the Nats to the Opposition benches for a decade. There might be a hard-core rump of right-wing Nat voters who would love the neo-fascism she’d bring to a Collins-led government, but I think (I HOPE!!) most NZers couldn’t stomach her extremism for long.

    And what party would go into coalition with her and be tainted by her style of rabid extremism??

  4. I think the one thing we can certain about when it comes to Key, is that the reasons he has publicly given are the only ones that are not the real reasons.

    • E.g. such as Trump winning the US presidential election and going to ditch the TPPA, which the Nats fought so hard for, and considered so damned important for their government’s success and New Zealand’s future.

  5. Every poll I have seen I have voted I have voted for Judith to replace Key.

    I’ve threatened all my children they will be disinherited if they don’t vote Judith on polls as well. If pundits like Michelle Boag, Whaleoil, Paul Henry and David Seymour are voting for Judith, vote me in too.

    This country has gone to the dogs under Key, in the same way that it went under Rob Muldoon.

    We cannot afford Universal Superannuation, especially for people who haven’t contributed effectively over their lifetimes. Why should people get Superannuation after only living here 10 years? Because Key said he wouldn’t touch Super while he was in power, this country has built up huge debts paying for universal superannuation. It stinks!

    Time for someone with “a bit of guts”, not just the sham bluster from Key for the parliamentary cameras and press gallery after he sent troops to Afghanistan, but real change that only a woman with the heart of a lioness like Margaret Thatcher had, someone like Judith Collins, who won’t stand any of the namby-pamby PC bullsh*t that has ruled this country since the days of Aunty Helen.

    “Time for a real change, time for Judith” (and she can use that slogan – no royalties expected, as I release this letter to the creative commons).

  6. All will come clear when a grateful Prime Minister Collins awards the departing Mr Key his Knighthood.

    And become clearer still when after a set period of time deemed to put respectable distance between standing down as New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Sir John will graciously and quietly step into a senior executive role in a major investment company on Wall Street, at five times the money.

  7. It is possible that the reason Key resigned has nothing to do with politics at all; maybe he got a better job or there is a family crisis going on. However he needs to give a proper amount notice, like the rest of us workers do if we resign, or have his pay docked.

  8. Sam: “The rich love what Key has done for them. He’s given them skyrocketing property values, a top bracket tax cut…”

    The facts:

    1. Property rose a lower percentage under Key than it did under Clark

    2. The closure of the LAQC tax loophole for landlords in his first term made the top 1% pay a larger slice of the tax take than they had under the previous Labour government.

    Key’s departure is perfectly logical:

    Eight years in the top job is more than enough for anyone. Anyone who has been exposed to similar stress will know how great a feat it is.

    As a performance driven person he would want to go out on top rather than hang on until the bitter end.

    One of his objectives during these last eight years has been to rebuild National with younger, better MPs. He has gradually moved out most of the old guard and replaced them with excellent candidates, thereby rejuvenating the party for another generation. This is in sharp contrast to Labour which has fossils sitting in safe seats and membership steadily falling.

    He has always been at pains to avoid creating a personality cult, although the media like to try and play it that way. With membership approaching 35,000, the National Party is going to prove it is a lot more than just John Key.

    The timing allows a new leader time to prepare for the next election and win it on their own merits.

    • “With membership approaching 35,000, the National Party is going to prove it is a lot more than just John Key.”

      Ha ha that’s hilarious. The National party will be like fleas jumping off the back of a dog, only leaving blood marks, with Key resigning

    • “He has always been at pains to avoid creating a personality cult…”

      Oh my god, are you serious? Have you ever looked at any National Party hustings? Nationwide elections or local bye-elections, no matter who the candidate, they’re never alone – His gurning mug is always there beside them, despite the fact that he is not a part of their electorate. It’s always been about Key as the brand, and if you think otherwise, that just proved the marketing strategy worked. On you, at least.

  9. There has to be a very good reason for him doing a sudden runner.
    Something like scandal brewing. There’s been a lot of exposure recently of global pedophile networks involving people in high places.
    John Key- a man of dubious character. A liar.
    “by their fruits you shall know them”…look at his kids- a porn queen & a gigolo. Very telling.

    Also very telling about the general public who supported him. Tells that a large percentage of the population are devoid of moralility and ethics.
    Very alarming sign of the times..

    • Cassie you make an excellent point about those New Zealanders who say they support and vote for these bastards who every time they are in government they cause misery , take away our rights and protections and cut funding that always effects our social services all in the name of political ideology and maintain the status quo in the name of their vested interests like the alcohol industry that donates so that they dont face change that will regulate them for the public good.

      They even interfere with Kiwisaver that should be protected and improved and not taxed for the long term benefit of New Zealanders…but not the National party they cant help themselves they have to take the stick to New Zealanders and people keep voting for it.

      We are not the people we once proudly were.

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