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Key’s bunker of spin

Written By: - Date published: 1:00 pm, September 27th, 2010 - 14 comments
Categories: brand key - Tags:

Way back in August the National Business Review ran a well researched (but off-line) story by Matt Nippert titled Panic station: policy quashing on the ninth floor of the Beehive

And I must say it’s an interesting view into the strange bunker of spin that is the Prime Minister’s office – an office in which it seems the spin doctors are firmly in charge of government policy:

Every morning of almost every weekday at 8am, Captain Panic Pants, Hansel and Gretel, John Key and Wayne Eagleson attend a strategy meeting where risk aversion flatlines good ideas.

“Captain Panic Pants” is also known as Kevin Taylor, Mr Key’s chief press secretary.

Hansel and Gretel are the little-known but high-powered duo of Phil de Joux and Sarah Boyle who hold, respectively the position of deputy chief of staff and senior adviser.

All three, along with chief of staff Wayne Eagleson, work on the ninth floor of the Beehive in the opaque but politically dominant Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

But these so-called “good ideas” seem to be the kind of ideas that would make Roger Douglas proud:

The scaled-down – and then jettisoned – plan to expand mining, the shelved proposal to part-float state-owned enterprises and the wholesale rejection of any policies contained in the 2025 Taskforce are among the examples cited by sources of well-grounded policies that met their end at the hands of the PMO.

As an anonymous Auckland businessman tells it:

The people who are reading your paper are the sort of people who feel they should be able to pick up a phone and call someone and get something gone. And they can’t do that at present.

I’ve heard similar things from business contacts – they’re not happy that they aren’t getting what they want from Key (although the attack on work rights has helped a little). They also know there’s not a lot of depth of support for him in his own caucus.

But Key knows he’s all that National has got going for them which probably goes some way to explaining why he is so careful to manage his image. After all if he’s not delivering the shock and awe policy that business is demanding he better be providing votes and a hope it will come soon.

Right now Key’s tied to the need for a second term. But if he’s not going to stick around after that (and more than a few National party insiders say he won’t) there’s not a lot to hold back all those “good ideas”.

14 comments on “Key’s bunker of spin”

  1. Dancr 1

    So how long can they keep this up? Will it last through the campaign next year? Or will those outside influences be seeking to get some committments down on paper as the manifestos get put together…

  2. tc 2

    This comes as no surprise, Sideshow’s only ever been in it for his own egotistical reasons, he doesn’t need the bucks (he’d make more in his old job anyway) and doesn’t want the grief he’d bring on himself if he actually did some of that policy stuff like heaven forbid…make a decision.

    Style over substance and watch him smile and wave at every PR opportunity (see here’s me with Bernie F1 Ecclestone….choice eh) is all anyones getting from clueless.

    Out of the mouths of babes last week, a child watching him observed how tired and ragged he looks after some real work in the field at chch…. so off on holiday again.

  3. roger nome 3

    I want to see National campaigning on “privatisation by stealth” next election. “The Hollow Men” shows us that the idea of doing this in a second term is popular in the National hierachy – and last election Key was at pains to make it clear that there would be no privatisation in the first term. Seems likely doesn’t it?

    The sad thing is, that with Phil Goff as the main opposition leader he could get away with doing what most New Zealanders oppose for a few more years yet.

    • IrishBill 4.1

      Cheers Bryce. It’s interesting to see your analysis of it as a product of the political professional class however I can tell you that Sarah Boyle is certainly ideological – a trait that combines with her professionalism to make her very effective.

  4. J 5

    Key is if nothing a financial man, he knows the only way out is stimulus and higher taxes on higher incomes but how can he do that and stay leader.

    Yet that is pretty much the way to play yourself out of a a long lull in market activity, stoke the fire until it starts burning again and ask the higher incomed to bear some of the pain of the economic loss.

    After the wall street crash the domestic economic society has to be studied in a very, very transparent way.No dropping taxes and hoping anymore.

    • bbfloyd 5.1

      Doesn’t say much for us does it? vote the man out for doing the right thing… that is, if he did it…

  5. Jim MacDonald 6

    Re “business contacts – they’re not happy that they aren’t getting what they want from Key”

    I have some business matters that can do with policy changes and I think I would be better off approaching Goff and Labour MPs who would more successfully seek consensus from a wider range of interest for policy action.

  6. felix 7

    “Why haven’t you fucked New Zealand yet?”

    “Well, we can’t because of Pillow Pants”

  7. Rex Widerstrom 8

    I started reading this post imagining its seemingly obvious conclusion would be that hollow men still run National. But then, when right wing business types rail against the ameliorating influence of these types, suddenly they’re all that stands between us and a raft of Act-like policies.

    It’s a situation neatly summed up in Bryce Edwards’ article (linked by him above) which I’d recommend reading. he concludes:

    When a party contains a mix of professionals (of the ‘Political Class’) and ideological ‘true believers’ wanting to change society, then a clash is inevitable. This is clearly what we’re getting a glimpse of this story.

    So what do we want? A largely unknown collection of people for who (paraphrasing Edwards) career matters most, at the expense of policy? Or a coterie of ideologues, safe in their list positions and safe seats and determined to remake NZ in an image which suits them and their equally unknown backers?

    What about neither? If this is the choices we face no matter who we elect (and, as Edwards says, Heather Simpson and her team were any equally pernicious influence on Labour, and Margaret Pope was widely held to have controlled Lange) then isn’t it time we remodelled the system so we have a say more than once every three years?

    The ideologues would be free to try to convince us of the validity of their competing visions, but we’d have the final say. And the faceless “Political Class” woud be reduced to carrying out the wishes of their employers, not insidiously shaping them.

  8. marco 9

    I know a Nat party insider with a different take on things. His prediction before the last election was if they lost the election, the party would split in two. The left of the party would follow Key and the right would head toward English. The simple fact is the right of Labour and the left of National would sit quite comfortably together. They are prevented from doing so by the members of each party that would like to stick to their roots.

  9. Lazy Susan 10

    I don’t think Key has any firm ideology or any great “ambition for NZ” – he just wanted to “have a go” at politics.

    His main goal at the moment is to not frighten the horses, running into next year’s election, and secure National a second term. If he achieves this, and it’s by no means certain that he will, I believe he will step aside within a year. He’s astute enough to know that a second term will see the National dogs unleashed.

    Key only ever took on the role of PM because he liked the idea of it. He will want to make sure his legacy is the guy who made the National party electable again – not the leader of a wrecker government that unleashes a far right agenda on the citizens of NZ.

  10. Sarah Boyle used to be a select committee clerk. This is what happens when office clerks rule the world.

  11. david civil servant 12

    @tobefrank – and the Labour party used to be the government.

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