Key won power in 2008 on a diet of dead rats (“communism by stealth” anyone?). Since then, his government has been fanatically poll / focus group driven, and Key has racked up an impressive range of flip flops / U-turns. It has worked in terms of maintaining popularity (power for power’s sake), but lead to increasing accusations that Key and his government don’t stand for anything – they’ll blow wherever the political wind is leading. Bryce Edwards has a good round-up of commentary on this:
A Government that listens too much
Both the political left and right allege Key’s government has become affected by third-termitis, complaining of an administration that is tired and lacklustre. For many on the left, it’s because Key and co have stopped listening to the public. But far more trenchant criticism is coming from the right who say the Government is listening too much.
Matthew Hooton complains that the Government is now adrift without any serious reform agendas underpinning Key’s leadership: “his focus is now almost entirely on the flag referendum and his own international relationships. The continuing shift to the left, including the first increase in benefits since 1972, the $50 million U-turn on refugee numbers based on pressure from the twitterati and the silence on tax and RMA reform is not doing much for his reputation” – see: David Seymour fills political vacuum.
He says that Key’s “high water mark is now well behind us. For the serious end of the business community, the tide went out on Mr Key long ago, when they realised he had no interest in a reform agenda and that his words, public or private, lacked the necessary relationship to government decisions to be reliable inputs for business ones. Those waiting for, say, a genuine infrastructure plan, the promised financial services hub in Auckland or RMA reform are still waiting.”
Ex-Act leader Rodney Hide has a very thoughtful and damning critique, complaining that “Policy is now made by public feel. Every decision is open to review and reversal especially if the pushback is from middle voters” – see: It’s polls, not policies, that count in politics. … “We have never had a better demonstration of policy by public feel than with Mr Key. There are no bottom lines. There are no decisions that can’t be overturned. There are no guiding policy principles or political philosophy.
Possibly the most interesting discussion of the Government’s strong inclination to bend to the mood of the public is Tim Watkin’s blog post, Cure for third-termitis? A dose of the polls. He says “The big lesson from this past year of politics is that National under John Key (and Joyce) is willing to turn on a dime and do as many u-turns as polling tells them are needed, to stay popular. More than ever in its third term, National will bend like a Len Lye sculpture to match public opinion, even if it makes them hypocrites. The trend has been building all year. National said no new taxes, then introduced a “brightline test” (a non-tax tax) and a tourism “levy” tax. The party that has long-mocked benefit increases, well, they increased benefits. Refugee numbers? They went from no way to 600 more in less than a week. And now Lochinver. The crown jewel of all u-turns”. …
That commentary over-states the case. When it comes to implementing progressive policies Key is much more about the appearance of action than the substance. The routine poll driven pandering is all about doing the least he can get away with, and there haven’t been many examples of Key having to resume his dead rat diet and swallow a major issue. The backdown on mining in national parks was one such case. But the flip flop on including the Red Peak flag in the referendum is a clear, significant and much more personal example. The opportunity arose because Key ineptly painted himself into a losing corner with his muppet flag process, but the pressure was delivered via social media. Not a citizen’s referendum, not a march down Queen St, but the digital tools of Facebook and Twitter and Change.org.
That’s a new development, and it will be interesting to see where it leads in the years ahead. Political / media dinosaurs will never be able to dismiss “The Twitterati” again.
The governments bending with #RedPeak – So we're suggesting some other new laws to throw at them.. Tweet us your ridico suggestions now!
— ZM Chart (@zmchart) September 23, 2015
Is it me or are our Govt's top priorities:(1) Flags, &(2) Pandas? Given >140 characters I think I could list 140 reasons why this is insane.
— Felix Geiringer (@BarristerNZ) September 23, 2015
Tomorrow, govt sending parliament into urgency to pass law ensuring all homes r warm, safe & healthy for kids.. no, wait.. more flag fiasco
— Clint Smith (@ClintVSmith) September 23, 2015