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O’Sullivan: Key a poor manager, Smith needs to go

Written By: - Date published: 1:08 pm, October 17th, 2009 - 36 comments
Categories: john key, national/act government - Tags:

Fran O’Sullivan’s piece today tries to resurrect the ‘Key=Obama’ line for some reason. She even refers to Obama as Key’s ‘alter ego’. I’m not quite sure she understands what the term means. Alter egos are like ying and yang, contrasting parts of the same whole.

Does she think they’re one person with different personas at different times like Bruce Wayne and Batman? Is Key Bruce Wayne, the selfish hedonistic party boy, while Obama is Batman the lone sentinel protecting society against the dark unknown. Maybe Key is Clark Kent, the meek bumbler and Obama is Superman the confident, all-powerful hero.

Anyway, shifting through the dross, which I suspect is primarily there to open the Nats’ minds to her substantive messages, she makes some strong points:

“If Key does not want to preside over a one-term Government…”

It’s not sown up, not if this government continues being this bad and Labour starts doing the basics better.

“[Key is] prime political firefighter who repeatedly rides to the rescue to save his Government from fiascos caused by his own lax political management.”

Too lazy to do the job right in the first place, he finds himself scrambling to limit the damage.

Cabinet Minister Nick Smith is making a pig’s arse of shepherding through both issues [gutting the ETS and ACC]. Business is squealing over the lack of time to make submissions to the climate change select committee and Smith failed to get the Government’s support partners – Act and the Maori Party – on side before moving on ACC…If Key isn’t thinking Cabinet reshuffle by now he needs his head read.

I think that if he hadn’t destroyed all his credibility by nicking hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars he wasn’t entitled to, Bill English would be fronting both these issues by now. Just as Cullen would take the lead when a minister was in trouble. With English walking dead himself, it’s been left to Smith to screw up. Will he get shuffled out? If he does who will replace him? There’s only two options I guess – Power or Joyce.

The problem at the end with O’Sullivan’s thesis though is that she thinks all Key needs to do is ‘stop playing Mr Nice Guy’ and get serious about his job. That fails to recognise that this is as good as Key gets – lazy, image-obsessed, impossible to pin down on a serious issue, always looking for the easy way out. I’m afraid that this Bruce Wayne is not going to become her dark knight.

36 comments on “O’Sullivan: Key a poor manager, Smith needs to go ”

  1. gingercrush 1

    It’s not sown up, not if this government continues being this bad and Labour starts doing the basics better. But Labour aren’t doing the basics. And they’re not getting Goff out there. To think just weeks ago they had a great conference with plenty of media around it then Goff appeared to have simply dropped off. The key for Labour is to get Goff out there and in the media. He’s still far too forgotten. The fact very few people in New Zealand even knew Goff was off overseas doesn’t help.

    National had a very bad week. They’ve actually had a number of them. But Labour doesn’t seem to be able to capitalise on them. Hence, National gets away with so much because the opposition isn’t there to make money on it.

    I agree with your points about English. He should keep his head down for the rest of the year and try to rejuvenate himself next year. In regards to Goff. Next year he has to start getting himself noticed and they Labour have to do far better than they are currently. The Greens need to fix themselves as well. National needs better organisation behind the scenes. That is what seems to be causing problems.

    • But GC

      All that Labour has had to do is sit back and witness this train wreck of a Government. Stop trying to take attention off the Nats.

      • gingercrush 1.1.1

        Well good luck with that Mickey. I don’t see how Labour can possibly win if no one knows who the hell Goff is.

  2. Ianmac 2

    Fair comments Ginge. But it takes a while for the general population to start seeing a reason to slide support downwards. A bit like a leaky home- it takes a while for the rot to show. I just can’t see that Mr Key has a passion for his job in the same way as say Nick Smith does.

  3. Jim McDonald 3

    Good piece.

    To reinforce the point, has someone informed the PM the latest about his Education Minister (11:25am NZ Herald piece today)? He should tally up Tolley’s questionable and disturbing comments especially for their further downstream effect:

    Hardly sage ministerial comments. Perhaps the PM should put her back firmly in her cabinet trolley?

    I’d say leave Goff where he is at the moment and the Labour party would be wiser to balance their time and focus on policy development, strategies and alternatives that can be rolled out later in the electoral cycle. And build support within the wider community, slowly and surely. Sometimes (with some caveats) there is little point in getting too embroiled in Nat’s own self-generated shambles as that would just give the Govt an excuse to distract and draw Labour in closer when the shit is flying.

    The point is, however it has turned out, the sum total of voters in 2008 has voted for this zany combo of multi-headed political beast that sometimes seem to be running around like a monstrously awkward headless chook! The parties in Govt should be given full opportunity to display their competence and argue for their superb policies to put into action, especially on this side of the electoral cycle.

    I’d say to members of the opposition benches that sometimes you justifiably can give the political parties in Government the oxygen to burn up.
    Labour/Greens/Progressive: breathe easy yourselves.

    Long week for some. Maybe the PM should contemplate another break overseas to reassess his work-life balance.

    Have a good weekend folks. Ka kite ano!

    • BLiP 3.1

      That’s a remarkable photo – especially if you compare it with the “authorised” version. It looks like she’s been on P since the election.

      • RedLogix 3.1.1

        Hey BLiP, I can understand the temptation, after all the right dished it out to HC in spades, but I reckon it’s a bit beneath you to be casting aspertions about personal appearances like that.

        Call me old fashioned megasauras if you like.

        • BLiP

          Okay you’re an old fashioned megasaurus 🙂

          I’m actually a bit conflicted about it myself – 12 months ago I would have launched into a tirade of justification complete with reference links to the filth posted in the sewer – but I’ve cooled down a lot since then. I still doubt very much that the next election will be won using ideas and rational debate but I have taken your comments in the spirit I am sure you intended and shall back off on the personal appearances thing.

          I’m certainly no portrait myself.
          [that’s just uncalled for, BLiP. I’m sure you bring Adonis or Venus (pick the correct gender) to shame. Marty]

          • felix

            BLiP that photo is actually a much better publicity pic, in terms of what the herald/national is trying to say to their readership/base. Note the low angle, the stern jaw, the fixed gaze – this is intended to look like a woman in control, not to be trifled with. She’s large, in charge and she won’t let anyone spend YOUR money.

            The reality is the complete opposite of course. The woman is a fool, a simple drone with no authority to make ministerial decisions, not even allowed to speak in public without word-for-word approval from her handlers.

            Tricksy Heraldses.

  4. Ianmac 4

    Yes Jim and I wondered how said kid would fit into National Standards. The National Standards will apparently cost about $80 mil to instal and run. But surprise there is not $60mil to help success on the frontline. Time passes and you will need more than an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Bring back Trevor!

  5. JD 5

    I’m not sure about key being too lazy since I would rather have our PM addressing issues such as the recession and deficit than ensuring adequate rugby coverage on TV but hey that’s just me.

    • Pascal's bookie 5.1

      Doing that, is he?

    • Marty G 5.2

      I don’t see him addressing the recession or the deficit.

      cycleway anyone?

    • Jim McDonald 5.3

      … and the Cycleway that will ensure we grandly ride out of this recession!

      Seems to me the RWC Minister and his good company of Cabinet ministers were caught napping and then suddenly had their eyes on Elections 2011 and RWC (?Sep, Oct 2011). Hence, a few hands quickly slammed on the ‘PANIC’ button.

      At this rate, given there’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and after firefighting the issues of the week, our industrious and Letterman-illustrious PM may be finding himself in deficit with his time to work on The Plan for recovery.

    • BLiP 5.4

      You’ll be concerned, then, to learn that the Goober is off for another wee holiday; this time to Japan at the end of the month for the final All Blacks / Wallabies match on the 31st.

      • mickysavage 5.4.1

        Can we persuade Japan to keep him?

        • sk

          BLiP, where did you see that?

          If correct, what a joke. What is this foreign policy around All Black rugby matches?

          • Ianmac

            And this is the same bloke who couldn’t remember the Springbok Tour.

          • BLiP

            Ita funny you should mention that – the original story has “disappeared” off the site but can still be found in Google cache – I wonder why the original was pulled? You might want to see if you can get an invitation to attend a function he is hosting while over there.

            • Jim McDonald

              To avoid NZ taxpayers needing to bail out Rugby World Cup 2011 (the latest news report a conservative estimate of $39m loss), the PM will be going overseas to talk about outsourcing the event to Japan???

  6. Sanctuary 6

    I am a firm believer that newspapers send a message with their choice of image, and that one of Tolley in the linked article above might just indicate a subtle change of mood towards this government is in the air…

    • RedLogix 6.1

      Yes, they were very fond of using unflattering images of Helen Clark when it suited them. It’s a particularly effective tactic against women politicians and reflective of the sad, unexamined undercurrents of sexism alive and well in our society.

    • Stacktwo 6.2

      This is a picture of smug superiority – hardly an accurate depiction of a minister far from achieving her unit standards at this point in her career.

      Shirley Maihi deserves to be listened to. She is a superb educational leader with a deep understanding and involvement in the Manurewa community.

  7. sk 7

    The most revealing interview with John Key of late, dare I say it, was in the Women’s Weekly, where he said that he always wanted to know what it was like to be the PM – and that that was his apparent motivation for being in politics. That he did not want to die without having experienced it!

    Well, now he is. And what we are seeing is the mix of Muldoon and Lange, Muldoon populism with Lange’s low work rate. Nothing in John Key’s background has prepared him for the complex task of governance – something love her or hate her, Helen Clark had.

    Bottom line is he is a populist but weak PM, surrounded by an even weaker cabinet.

    I suspect we may look back and see this week as a tipping point. With English wounded, it is not clear how Key can get the toothpaste back in the tube.

  8. gitmo 8

    I think Fran’s comparison of Key and Obama was summed up a couple of paragraphs in.

    “Like Obama, Key has succeeded in one critical area: changing “the vibe” around his nation’s capital. Like Obama he is perceived as a Mr Nice Guy in large part because he is not his predecessor: Helen Clark in Key’s case, or George W. Bush (Obama).”

    I think she’s spot on here – to date they’re both hot air and very little substance and popular for who they are not rather than who they are.

  9. Greg 9

    “It’s not sown up, not if this government continues being this bad”

    Thats your opinion. The rest of NZ (in general) does not agree. Do you read the polls?

    • Armchair Critic 9.1

      Good point Greg – obviously it must be time for a snap election, those polls can’t be that wrong, can they?
      But maybe not. I mean the government has had a couple of bad weeks so their popularity can only head further up once they start doing things right, right? Who knows, in two years time they might be getting 150% in the polls and then we can make that nice Mr Key PM For Life. Then we wouldn’t need to read the polls at all.

    • sk 9.2


      It is now that it gets real interesting. Sure, the polls are fantastic for National and John Key. But every government is tested early in their term. For Labour it was mid-2000, but Clark and Cullen came through it,

      The issue for John Key is that he has never being tested in his political career the way Clark was. It has all come too easy, just as it did at Merrill Lynch. The question now is does he want it bad enough; or is Sir John Key, Director of Goldman Sachs, resident in London an attractive enough alternative to being NZ PM? So that when it comes to the crunch, he des not want it bad enough.

      John Key won by cobbling together a coalition of National and centrists. That coalition is now coming apart. Take a look at Kiwiblog, and the fraying is clear. Suddenly, 2011 feels a long way away. A lot can happen . . . .

  10. GFraser 10

    Sorry Greg, but your head is in the sand. This government is a train wreck. The media are turning and the polls will not be far behind.

    • Ron 10.1

      I hope the media ARE turning because they’ve given the bastards a free run until now.
      When I see them hounding this lot over their lies and theft like they houded Peters then I’ll believe they’re not just Tory lackies.

    • Key’s two basic problems are that he is surrounded by incompetents and he does not have the ability to manage the incompetents so that the end result is acceptable.

      He must think about Helen Clark and marvel at how good she was at the job.

      Hell I do this every day!

  11. Pascal's bookie 11

    Key’s two basic problems are that he is surrounded by incompetents and he does not have the ability to manage the incompetents so that the end result is acceptable

    I dunno about this. (I dunno much about Key at all in fact, anyone got any clues about where he stands on anything?).

    I’m getting the impression that his ministers have been given a lot of autonomy though. It looks as if Key is happy enough to let them have free reign in their areas with little or no political oversight in terms of strategy. Just let them run, if they succeed, good. If they conflict, let them fight till either one backs down or it becomes a political threat, and only then does the PM need to swoop down and pick and a winner/enforce a deal.

    Look at how everyone was running around the MTS/WRC bunfight, or the way Smith has had his not very good days. Going further back, the way Wilkinson didn’t know what others were planning re her portfolio. It looks like Minsters are doing their own thing, and absent a broader strategy being managed from above, are having to do the political management and deal making themselves. The older hands are either playing games (McCully and co) or not coping (Smith not having the numbers on ACC).

    If they have Key’s confidence, they remain in place. Those that have made him look bad, (Lee and Worth) are just abandoned.

    • Jim McDonald 11.1

      Interesting observations. I’ve been starting to wonder about that.

      Btw, during Wed’s Morning Report RNZ, I thought Coleman sounded ‘gravelly’ and drained:

      [audio src="http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/mnr/mnr-20091014-0638-Broadcast_Minister_-_TVNZ_told_him_about_Maori_TV_bid-048.mp3" /]

      And then he was nowhere to be heard (or seen in the House?) — and until now? The Govt might have shut him down right after his appearance with that piece. The poor chap was prolly firefighting the Lee & NZ On Air case at the same time as he was front-footing the Sharples & RWC fiasco.

  12. sk 12

    Micky / Pascal,

    I think you are on to something here, in terms of Key’s management of the cabinet.

    Micky; When he was in opposition he did not form close relationships with his caucas colleagues. In fact, he was very aloof, and did not see the need to interact with them at a personal level. So there is none of the Bolger-Birch dynamic of resolving issues over a late night whiskey, Now that they are in government, those personal channels don’t exist. Hence the dysfunctional interaction we have seen over the RWC – and everything else.

    Pascal; What you describe is investment banking management 101, which was all in vogue in the 1990’s and early part of this decade, when John Key was learning the ropes of senior management. Create tension it was called, but it helped create the global credit crisis – as senior management gave too much autonomy to managers down the line. and did not manage or control them.

    The worst example of this was Stan O’Neal at Merrill – who ironically promoted John Key. It is no coincidence that John Key had his management experience at Merrill, and that they were the investment bank to blow up. The problems in the NZ cabinet right now are straight out of Merrill. It is amazing that the Right still present his experience at Merrill as a positive.

    This is a very fascinating moment . .. .

  13. George.com 13

    John Key is quickly becoming Joe Key. Jo Key and his bungling ministers. The bungling has been of Nationals own making, rather than events beyond their control.

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