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Brian Edwards on Key

Written By: - Date published: 11:55 am, August 19th, 2009 - 34 comments
Categories: john key - Tags:

Brian Edwards gives his take on our “Photo-op PM”.

Demonising Key hasn’t and isn’t likely to work for Labour. It doesn’t accord at all with the public perception of him (as evidenced by the polls) and it positions Labour as negative and nitpicking right at the time the country is looking for positivity and vision. Is what drops out of Edwards’ piece the beginnings of an alternative strategy for the left?

I’m a Labour man from way back and I’m saying this – Key might just exemplify the core advice we give to all our clients: In your dealings with the media, be straightforward, tell the truth, admit your mistakes.

So, as the Government slowly but surely rips the heart out of the welfare state, rewarding the rich and punishing the poor, Key’s job as frontman is to be the ultimate populist PM.

I doubt that Key is either as naïve or as easily bullied as Lange, but there are some uncanny similarities between the Lange/Douglas show and the Key/English show. And that will eventually spell trouble for Key and the National government. Trouble with a capital T.

Read the full piece.

34 comments on “Brian Edwards on Key”

  1. lukas 1

    “Demonising Key hasn’t and isn’t likely to work for Labour.” does this signal a change in what we are going to be reading from The Standard?

    I don’t say this as a smart arse comment, I did enjoy the alternative positions that used to be put forward by this site, I believe it has been lacking of late.

    • Eddie 1.1

      Your mistake is to portray The Standard as a borg. We don’t have a central committee that dictates how people analyse the political situation.

      Obviously there’ll be a tendency for us to have similar views due to our shared politics, and we’ll tend to riff off each other from time to time, but you seem to have got the wrong idea of what we’re about.

      As to the point of the article, I think that’s a thread that’s been running through posts here for a while – Key is a populist frontman of little principle, who’s been put there to distract the public from what’s really going on in the background.

      Clearly he’s got the right-wing views you’d expect of a currency speculator worth tens of millions, but he’s not wedded to ideology in the same way as Brash was. For that reason he’s a better politician, even if the difference between the two is only a matter of style rather than substance.

      • Daveski 1.1.1

        ” … populist frontman …:

        With no attempt to troll, extract the urine or otherwise deflect this topic, I don’t get it. You run a “democracy under attack” because National won’t do what (you believe) the public wants. Yet you dismiss him for being populist? I’m sure I’m not the only one confused by this.

        The other issue for the left is crying wolf. None of the worst case scenarios (including Edwards’s comments) are true or at least true yet. And unless there is a massive secret agenda that will make a fool of me, the baying from the left is actually helping the Nats as smaller changes can easily be made.

        I think that’s partly what ayb is getting at.

        • Rex Widerstrom

          Now there’s an interesting subject for political tragics, but one sadly way off-topic for this post so I won’t take the next 2,000 words to expand my views on “when does democracy become populism, and vice versa, and is there in fact a difference?”

      • Tim Ellis 1.1.2

        I don’t think lukas portrayed the standard as a borg Eddie. I don’t think it’s too harsh to say that you appear as a borg, with your views dictated by labour party central committee.

      • marcus lunch 1.1.3


        Perhaps the non-borg should look at ways on not emulating hive mind syndrome if this perception is to dissipate.


    • Bright Red 1.2

      Even if Labour changes its approach, I don’t see any reason why the Standard would change from what it is doing very effectively – providing a hub and rallying point of leftwing opposition to National. They’re two separate beasts with different but allied objectives.

      I think the problem from some on the Right is they have come to think of what the Standard says as being what Labour says (and I think it works that way round)… so you imagine that Labour is being confrontational and nitpicking when in fact you’re just seeing a leftwing blog doing what a leftwing blog is always going to do when a rightwing government is in power.

  2. Demonising Key hasn’t and isn’t likely to work for Labour. It doesn’t accord at all with the public perception of him (as evidenced by the polls) and it positions Labour as negative and nitpicking right at the time the country is looking for positivity and vision.

    The most perceptive comment here for some time. Just like many or most of the right completely overlooked HC’s strengths, I think the most here have underestimated Key’s strengths.

    I also agree it’s tough for Labour because nothing appears to be working – in the midst of a recession, National’s honeymoon goes on unabated.

    Nothing personal against Goff (I actually kind of sort of respect him) but he’s not the right man for the left – politically too similar to Key and doesn’t seem to represent a change in Labour.

    The other parts of Edward’s comments are more wisful thinking. National seems to have learnt the lesson from the past and a lengthy spell in Government still relies on straddling the centre with selective policy changes.

    Again, a good post ayb and will be interesting to see where this goes.

    • gingercrush 2.1

      Of course the right couldn’t understand Helen Clark, they still can’t. But you’re certainly right about the left. Their opinions of Key look very shaky and rather incorrect. Even now the right seem to think National’s popularity is because New Zealanders somehow woke up and decided they don’t like Helen Clark anymore. That isn’t true. Helen Clark will be well remembered for years.

      I see the left as behaving like the right did during the early-2000s when Labour and Helen Clark were at their strongest. The polls looked bad for National and Labour polled highly. Despite numerous troubles including their main coalition party collapsing in two. They continued to poll well. The right saw the media as being blatantly bias for Labour (they still do). The left do that now. They expect the media to conform to their own views and to look down on John Key and National. It isn’t going to happen because right now the left isn’t as relevant as the right.

      They’ll see issues such as Worth, Lee, Bennett and now Goodfellow and wonder why none of this is sticking and hurting National. Fact is such things rarely hurt a government in its first-term. At the moment they still think its because voters don’t want to admit they made a mistake. You’ll see that response all over the blogosphere by the left. Such an explanation is simple and frankly wrong. The centre changes. It shifts left and then will go right and eventually will go the other way. But right now its more right than left. No amount of screaming how ideological this government is or how big their secret agenda is, are going to change things.

      The left is where National was after 1999. Struggling to understand that whilst their previous leader continues to be well regarded and a government they see as breaking numerous policies and going in a direction that to them is far-right remains popular. It takes time to unwind. The left doesn’t get that but neither did the right.

  3. Edwards’ comments are perceptive. The difference between Brash and Key is tiny in terms of world view but huge in terms of public perception.

    Labour was able to effectively demonise Brash. He lost the 2005 election when he talked about “mainstream New Zealanders” and how this excluded everyone except white heterosexual middle class NZers.

    Key made no such mistake. At the best of times his speech is so sloppy that it is impossible to distil a coherent message.

    The Standard is doing the country a service however. This is to chip away at the veneer and show the real person beneath. This may take two years but that is fine. There should be an election at that time.

  4. roger nome 4

    “Demonising Key hasn’t and isn’t likely to work for Labour.”

    No, not with the media the way it is. But the media hunts in packs, so i suspect Labour is trying to “lead” the media dogs with a framing of Key that is latent in the public consciousness. It’s a long term strategy that can really pay off if Key is shoown to lie on a very serious issue in the future (the latent perception is that he’s dishonest, smarmy and slippery).

    It would be much more pleasing to see Labour forming a positive socialist alternative that is significantly different from National to allow a focus on poilicy differences rather than personality – but we won’t get that while the limp-wristed centrist Goff is leader. But that will change after the left loses the next election.

    • gingercrush 4.1

      roger nome you think Labour is really done for 2011?

    • Tim Ellis 4.2

      That isn’t a latent perception, Mr Nome. It’s just your wishful thinking of what the public believes, which isn’t supported by any empircal evidence.

  5. roger nome 5

    GC – well you know what they say. A week in politics is a very long time, and 2 years can be like an eternity. My opinion is that if National lets unemployment get out of hand, like they did in the 1990s, they’re going to see their popularity erode (“unemployment kills governments”). If Key can avoid that, and any serious scandal I’m picking National to win in 2011. That would lead to Goff’s ousting as leader, which i believe would be healthy for the left.

    • George D 5.1

      I’d like to see someone start a fight between National and the elderly. The ingredients are there, and the zombie is off the scene.

  6. roger nome 6


    I agree with you apart rom the following:

    “The centre changes. It shifts left and then will go right and eventually will go the other way. But right now its more right than left.”

    People’s party preference changes from left to right, but i think much of that is due to “time for change” sentiment, rather than changing ideals – i.e. my beliefe is that the public is more in accord wit hthe ideals of the Labour Party than the National Party – i.e. internal party polling shoows that privatisation was never popular and still isn’t (and National knows this, so it tries to hide this aspect of its ideology).

  7. Eric C. 7

    All Your Bases, are you seriously suggesting that Labour’s strategy should be to join the John Key lovefest?

    John Key will be our Prime Minister for many years to come if the main opposition party continues going around telling everyone how lucky we are to have him.

  8. all_your_base 8

    Eric C. – I’ve made my views on Key plain here on The Standard for many months. You may have noticed that I’m not a huge fan /cough/. I’m certainly not suggesting that Labour “join the lovefest” but I firmly believe that pursuing a strategy based predominantly on knocking over Key is a mistake. It’s the same mistake the right made with Clark for many years (and election losses).

    Guyon gave Labour some free advice in a post of his own last week. I disagree with his view that Goff should ‘cuddle up to Key’ but I’m with him on the assertion that Labour needs to shake the perception (nurtured by National of course) that it’s simply a whinger and a critic. When a journo is telling you that point blank, my view is that you should listen.

    Roger Nome – you’re wrong about Phil Goff. Limp wristed? Nope. From time to time one catches a glimpse of what he’s capable of. I don’t yet think he’s quite found his feet as Labour leader but make no mistake, there’s no shortage of resolve there. When (and if) he figures out he needs to work smarter not harder the numbers will close.

    • Eric C. 8.1

      Oh, I see. Labour should form its strategy based on advice from journos.

      Now there’s a winning strategy.

  9. roger nome 9


    Goff, to me appears to be a plain person with a watery personality, and too similar in ideology, to National’s current programme. So perhaps “limp-wristed” was the wrong term – but he certainly isn’t the flashing beacon that the left needs. He’s a pale blue light being outshon by Key’s deeper and brighter blue light – if you can excuse my indulgence in metaphore. He just isn’t differentiaiting himself from Key, and as a former member of Douglas’ suppport in the cabinet of the fourth Labour Government, i’ve got little faith in his will to ever do anything significantly different.

    This is why i think Labour probably won’t succed with him as leader, so the next election appears to be be National’s to lose.

    • Ianmac 9.1

      roger nome: If Phil Goff is not a threat why would you want him to step aside? Are you trying to help the Left?
      In the same way as I think John should stay as leader for eventually his smile will fade.

    • burt 9.2


      I would like to take this rare opportunity to say I completely agree with you.

  10. Pascal's bookie 10

    Watching 3news it would seem John is going to have to make a serious coalition choice pretty soon.

    He’s going to have to throw someone under the bus. I’d pick Rodney to back down, but if he really did issue an ultimatum over Maori supercity seats, he must have had a reason. If he didn’t issue that threat, then why is the National Party saying (in private) that he did, and why did that private memo get leaked?

    Maybe the nats polling is telling them that the centre hasn’t moved as far to the right as some might think, and ACT is going to get the ol’ shove.


  11. gobsmacked 11

    Yes, PB, this is a huge story. The biggest facing the government so far.

    Conflict between ACT and the Maori Party was inevitable, but Key would have wanted kept on hold until after the Foreshore & Seabed was, er, put to bed.

    ACT are not going to vote against National on confidence and supply, so the gov’t won’t fall. But Hide resigning is definitely an option.

    At least one MP (Hone Harawira) won’t back down on the Maori seats. But Sharples and Turia would probably back down for a cup of tea and a marae photo op.

    • mike 11.1

      Its a done deal – JK will back the MP and Rodney will fall into line.

    • Swampy 11.2

      Hide won’t resign, he will never be taken seriously again and his party will lose its levers. Cmon seriously, there is a lot more at stake.

      Either that or Hide truly is the ideological lightweight he has shown himself to be in the past (the perks campaign and championing people like David Henderson etc)

  12. ghostwhowalks 12

    Hide has seen the poll results too. hes in Jim Anderton territory and the rest of his MPs led by Garrett , Douglas etc dont want to be a one term coalition partner.

    national stiffed them in the coalition negotiation anyway so they may as well be outside the tent pissing in until National really really depends on them

  13. mike 13

    When Helens trusted spinmiester says JK is no longer a target its time for the left to be afraid – very afraid.

    This is the guy who advised her to use the “this ones about trust” line.

    Now he trusts Key – so where does leave the average voter?

  14. ak 14

    Interesting discussion, but the predominant feature influencing all kiwis – and the current polls – is the global economic threat.

    The clouds are building and it’s hunker-down time: as in 1939, the lion lies down with the lamb; and swing voters – inherently apolitical by definition – invest an incumbent of any stripe with their own wish-fulfilment aspirations and hankering for security.

    Concerns at NACT tinkering ring hollow and petty in such a charged atmosphere – and in any case the needy, shallow-rooted regime bends quickly and pliantly to any slight breeze of disaffection.

    But we near the witching hour in the Kiwi Lounge: Nicey and the Blue Bloods strum nimbly through a repertoire of Labour-lite covers, but the early energy is gone. The crowd calls for more, but minds stray to the hangover ahead.

    Labour should smoke cool in the corner. If offered government tomorrow, it should refuse. The fruits of inherent contradiction and barefaced populism show the spots and splits of sleaze and incompetence already: the heat and hip-pocket pressure in coming months will foment a mess that even a friendly press can’t paper over.

  15. You say this government has a free-market agenda?


    Can someone please point me to it?

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