A number of terms are bandied about to describe both John Key and the John Key Government. Using such terms and trying to reconcile their seeming contradictions can prove confusing. Indeed, from time to time we have seen such confusion manifest itself on this blog amongst the right wing who argue how Key can indeed have a ‘hidden agenda’ whilst simultaneously being ‘smile and wave’ or ‘clueless’ and ‘doing nothing’.
Whilst trying to piece together this enigma myself I have settled on 3 variables that I think go some way toward explaining the DNA of the Key Government. The terms ‘Brand Key’, ‘clueless’ and ‘hidden agenda’ encapsulate fairly nicely the realities of each variable.
‘Brand Key’, ‘smile and wave’, a ‘Ronald McDonald type Prime Minister’, that ‘nice man’. All terms I have seen used to describe John Key himself. The popularity of the Government rests squarely on Key. He is the reason for their election and re-election. Damage Brand Key and damage his Government. It is possible to point to numerous examples of this. John Banks last election piggy backed on ‘Brand Key’. The 2008 had Bill English talking about that ‘nice man John Key getting me some more’ (tax cuts). Every national party billboard of the past 2 elections has had Key front and centre, even to the point of overshadowing the local candidate.
This Government is very brand aware, skilled at cultivating and maintaining brand Key. So the first variable is Brand Key – a deliberate managed public relations strategy. The Ronald McDonaldisation of the Prime Ministers image.
‘Clueless’ and ‘do nothing’ refers to the inability of the Key Government to deliver some of the necessary social-environmental-economic changes New Zealand needs. Write a long list of issues and write a short list of Key Government solutions. I will not attempt to develop a comprehensive list but will use one example to illustrate my point.
Having being elected in late 2008 the Key Government rammed through parliament a series of bills, some of very low value, and then went on holiday. One pressing issue of rising unemployment and a stalling economy was put to one side during this summer break. It took weeks of ongoing criticism to goad the Key Government into announcing its ‘Jobs Summit’ as a response. ‘Brand Key’ was threatened. From that summit we got the cycle way, a promise for a ‘unrelenting focus on jobs’ and a ‘rolling maul of initiatives’. Both the manner in which the Key Government initially reacted, i.e. they didn’t, and the flagging nature of job creation policies exemplify this ‘do nothingness’. When required to do something the country required, Key and his government were found wanting.
So, ‘do nothing’ refers to the inability of Key and his Government to take the policy prescriptions New Zealand actually needs.
The ‘hidden agenda’ is about the world view the Key Government holds, broadly. Neo-liberal. Despite whatever else it says or does, Key et al believe in neo-liberal policy prescriptions. The primacy of the market, rational economic man, trickle down (whereas the reality is trickle up), deregulation, small government etc. Irrespective of claims about being pragmatic, a neo-liberal philosophy taints the Key Governments responses to the world around it. A couple of examples will illustrate the point.
Election in 2008 saw the Key Government introduce National Standards in Primary schooling. Election 2011 saw the unveiling of charter schools. Neither policy is necessary, our education system will do very nicely without either. Both policies are standard neo-liberal fare overseas and should be of little surprise that they have arrived on our shores.
Asset sales are another policy that New Zealand does not need. The introduction of a capital gains tax will nicely cover the gap in our budget deficit should we wish to retain our state owned assets. Neo-liberal policy however is never to raise taxes and certainly not in the area of financial capital. It is however all about passing state assets into private ownership.
Asset sales, National Standards and charter schools are not necessary for our future development. Why are they being implemented? The ‘hidden agenda’ of the Key Government is neo-liberal. The DNA within compels it to follow this line. As we breathe without conscious effort to survive, key et al neo-liberalise without conscious effort to govern.
So, for me, utilising the variables of ‘Brand Key’, ‘doing nothing’ and a ‘hidden (neo-liberal) agenda’ to analyse the ongoing interactions of the Key Government go a long way toward helping me understand why things occur as they do.