One day on and the repercussions of John Key’s resignation are already being felt. You get the feeling that the reverberations are deep and I suspect that National’s caucus is a seething backstabbing mess of ambition as various MPs jockey for position and backbench MPs that until now have been ignored and used as lobby fodder suddenly have some power.
John Key’s manufacturing of the situation so that a successor is anointed within 7 days is clearly to increase English’s chances. The Labour Party has a fully democratic system where candidates have to justify their candidacy to the party at large and talk to all sectors of the party. National clearly could not sustain such a system for the election of its leaders.
The obituaries are already starting with some suggesting that Key was one of our best Prime Ministers. I beg to differ.
Style wise he was pretty phenomenal but substance wise he was a deep disappointment. Not only to me but to people on the right such as Matthew Hooton and even Don Brash who is reported to have said this:
Former National party leader Don Brash says John Key has enjoyed being Prime Minister and ego-boosting meetings with world leaders but he has been guilty of tinkering rather than making major changes.
He says Mr Key has not dealt well with crunchy issues of narrowing the wage gap with Australia, superannuation and housing.
Mr Brash gave him a five out of 10 for his time as Prime Minister, saying he had not done anything that Helen Clark would not have done.
Much has been made of how Key dominated politics and how under his leadership National remained ultra popular. Yes they did poll over 50% often. But in the poll that counts, election results, their best result was 47%. This is impressive but we live in an MMP environment. National has only survived because of puppet MPs put into the Epsom and Ohariu seats in the past two elections. National’s supposed dominance has needed two puppets and the bending of the electoral system to close to breaking point to maintain power.
It has totally cannibalised its support parties. ACT is a frail shadow of its former self as is United Future. The Conservative Party has disappeared. On the right there is this Borg like entity that sucks all support into itself.
Key has perfected the aw shucks blokey persona that some clearly like. Although this was only skin deep. His management of dirty politics and the Cameron Slater Jason Ede axis of evil won him the last election but at the cost of his soul.
As to the substance he did not really achieve or create anything. He saw off the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch Earthquake rebuilds basically by borrowing money which New Zealand could because Michael Cullen had so assiduously paid off debt.
His economic development policies were crap. Expanding dairying only polluted our rivers and increased our output of greenhouse gasses. The growth of tertiary education for foreign students only caused the mushrooming of marginal providers.
The primary economic growth policy now appears to be ballooning immigration. Auckland’s population grew almost 3% last year. The symptoms are clear, rampant house price increases, homeless caused by ordinary people no longer being able to afford inflated rental amounts and a whole generation shut out of the property market. And services are stretched as budgets are held but demand increases.
And child poverty has ballooned. Key was great with the visuals and the talk of an under class and the trip to Waitangi with Aroha Ireland before he became Prime Minister was a major PR event for him to show that at least superficially he cared about the underclass. But the reality? Over a quarter of a million of children now live in poverty and kids are living in cars even though their parents have jobs. There is something deeply wrong in New Zealand.
Key was great at the pirouette and the change of the direction and the grabbing of opposition policy as well as the micro policy, the change that had little practical effect but which could be announced triumphantly as evidence that National was different. The increase to benefits was one of those policies.
But he was appallingly bad at dealing with big long term issues. Despite an aging population he refused to do anything about superannuation either by contemplating a change to eligibility or by restarting Cullen fund contributions so that at least it would be more affordable. And he gutted the emissions trading scheme while overseeing the increase in dairying so that the country’s emissions are now out of control.
Economic prowess is the one area where Key claimed special ability. Yes the economy is growing but having to rebuild the country’s second biggest city twice is good for growth. And national debt is just short of $90 billion when under Cullen and Clark the debt was pretty well paid off. Key claiming that the country was not well placed to deal with the Global Financial Crisis is utter bunk. The accounts were in sound shape back in 2008. Running up debt may give the illusion of wealth but it will have to be paid back.
Overall Key was great at the spin and the PR but appallingly bad at dealing with the reality. Despite his hopes the country is now in a far worse situation under his stewardship than it was when he took over.