On Saturday Stuff carried a piece (by Adam Dudding) on John Key. In most respects it was the usual kind of puffy profile, but it was definitely a cut above the kind of drivel we have seen from some star-struck writers. In places Dudding made a fairly balanced assessment:
A prime minister’s view
… It has been a rocky first term. Depending on your prejudices, you could argue either that Key has managed a series of external crises pretty well, or that catastrophic earthquakes and a mining disaster, plus a global financial crisis, have provided great excuses for a government that has achieved precious little.
What is inarguable, though, is that Key is even more popular now than when he came to power – a recent poll gave him a 70% approval rating as prime minister.
Despite dire warnings from the left, Key has so far failed to tear off his latex mask to reveal Roger Douglas or some other horseman of the right-wing apocalypse. Labour’s redistributive Working for Families package is intact. The selling-off of state assets has, as promised, not happened quite yet. Key has largely removed race from political debate by hauling the Maori Party into his tent. He believes (these days) in global warming.
He has, in other words, avoided freaking us out – even if we have cringed at the Letterman thing, the Rugby World Cup catwalk mincing or the Taj Mahal snog.
Some serious “freaking out” is on the agenda for a second term, however, and we would do well to take heed of the fact.
All those marae visits have given the white boy from Burnside High School a crash course in Maori matters – “I’ve learnt they’ve got a great sense of humour” – and he’s picked up a thing or two from his coalition partners. “Pita [Sharples] and Tariana [Turia] – I can now see the differences between them… because she’s really iwi-based Maori and he’s really urban-based Maori. That would have been lost on me early on. But not now.”
OK I’m cringing again right now. It boggles the mind that someone so ignorant of New Zealand could become its PM.
The poll results suggest Key’s efforts to avoid looking cold and heartless have, in general, worked.
But how does he explain this: at the scrag-end of National’s first term, we still haven’t caught up with the Aussies. The economy hasn’t undergone a “step change”. Food prices are high and electricity prices keep on rising. There was that unpleasant business about plans to sink mines on conservation land; there’s been a much-lamented slashing of ACC payment for counselling for rape victims; community night classes were kicked in the guts.
Forget cold and heartless – why aren’t New Zealanders annoyed with Key over this stuff?
Well, for a start, says Key, “I could have quite a long, serious debate with you over each and every one of those issues.”
No doubt, but the general point remains – things are less than ideal, but polls suggest Kiwis still love you. Why?
Because “the New Zealand public aren’t unreasonable. They look at it through the lens of what’s fair in those three years. …
“The second thing is it’s all relative. Yes, our unemployment went to 7 per cent and now it’s 6.5, but in America it’s 9 per cent officially and 14 per cent unofficially and in Spain it’s 20 per cent…
“And the second thing [Key’s numbered lists have a tendency to go awry] is they know it takes time. We don’t have a history of one-term governments… and I think that’s an indication that the public votes governments out rather than oppositions in.”
Interesting that Key doesn’t even try to defend his record on its merits. It’s just a long list of excuses and a plea for the mercy of the public. Well, inertia may carry them through the coming election – we don’t tend to chuck out first term governments it’s true. But then we don’t usually have such ineffectual and empty facades of government either.
Labour needs to focus on the Nat’s record of failure, and they need to promote their own credible and effective alternative policies. Take the electoral fight to the Nats. Because when it comes to the latex mask, as most lefties will tell you, it’s always been clear that it’s the second term where we get to see what’s really underneath.