When you boil it down, John Key’s much-vaunted political nous is about keeping his personal brand clean. He farms out anything controversial to ministers and leaves them to it. The problem with that approach is muppets are left to run things with no oversight resulting in political cock-ups. Case in point: the supercity.
As even National pollster David Farrar admits, National’s prize asset is Key’s smile. To protect that asset, Key cannot have his brand tarnished by association with any policies that are unpopular. He has become the ‘do nothing’ ‘smile and wave’ Prime Minister, while ministers are left to do the work.
Key takes virtually no interest in the running of government or policy development, ministers are given a free rein. And because most of them are absolute twats, the results are often bad, not only for the country but (almost paradoxically) for National’s political agenda too.
Gerry Brownlee, for instance, was left to his own devices on the review of mining in New Zealand. Brownlee is a meathead. His bright idea was to open up everything for mining and bulldoze any opposition. It was a crucial misjudgment. Within months, the Government was facing the biggest protest in generations. Ultimately, the polling forced Key to intervene and make Brownlee (who still hadn’t understood that he was on a losing fight) to back down.
But it seems Key learned nothing. He made Brownlee dictator under CERRA after being told to cut himself out of the Christchurch reconstruction because of the dissatisfaction that will inevitably arise from the speed of the recovery.
Likewise, Anne Tolley has been left to handle national standards alone and created a revolt in the education sector. Rather than present his own economic vision, Key paid Don Brash to present his. When the prescription was totally untenable, Key had to bin it. We still don’t know what Key’s economic vision is, apart from gimmicks like the cycleway and the financial hub.
When it came to the supercity, Key gave Rodney Hide a blank canvass and said ‘deliver me an Auckland fit for a pro-corporate, pro-privatisation agenda’. Of course, Hide went too far.
His arrogance, and the hubris of the Right in general, led him to believe that he could get away with overriding the wishes of the people of Auckland (by denying them a referendum on amalgamation) and slanting the playing field for the Right with gerrymandered seats, powerless Local Boards, and the CCO structure designed for privatisation. In fact, it created a public backlash through the one democratic avenue that Hide couldn’t take away – the council elections.
The result was that the hard Right has been turfed out across Auckland, right-leaning constituencies like Papakura, Rodney, and Franklin are pissed off as hell, and Hide has handed Auckland to the Left.
A smarter strategy would have been less greedy. The government would have engaged in some geniune consultation. They wouldn’t have gone tried to have it all and would have focused on winning the elections, rather than being so arrogant as to alienate voters. A more moderate government policy in creating the supercity would have helped deliver a right-leaning council to govern it.
No wonder Key, who had just days before still been trying to drum up support for Banks, looked so sick on Saturday night. The supercity election results are not only a defeat for the Right and a big boost for the Left ahead of next year’s election, they point to the underlying weakness of Key’s political management.
It’s funny how a strength can become a weakness. Brand Key is so vital to National that their strategy is overly focused on protecting it, to the point where they stuff up the substantive things time and time again. Ultimately, National’s agenda has progressed far less than might be expected because of that.
Like Farrar says “John Key’s smile only goes so far”.