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Painting a portrait of Mr Key

Written By: - Date published: 9:43 pm, July 19th, 2008 - 47 comments
Categories: john key - Tags:

I read with interest the NZ Herald’s “In Search of John Key“. I know at least some commentors on this blog have questioned our continued examination of the National party leader – so it was reassuring to see the Herald statement that “he remains relatively unknown. Who really is John Key? Where did he come from and what motivates his ambition?”:

There’s plenty in what they have written to ponder on (and I am sure we shall see further discussion here) – but in the meantime I’d like to say well done to the Herald – great to see someone seeking to scratch beyond the surface, and with potentially more interesting observations to come:

“The picture which has emerged is of a person of driving ambition and determination who is prepared to do what it takes to achieve what he is aiming for. In pursuit of his goals, Key will not hesitate to seek out people he thinks are best-placed to help him. He is decisive and appears genuine, but at the same time does not like giving offence – it’s this aspect of his character which, as we shall explore in part two next week, provides the ammunition for his political opponents to label him “Slippery John”.”

47 comments on “Painting a portrait of Mr Key”

  1. T-rex 1

    “The picture which has emerged is of a person of driving ambition and determination who is prepared to do what it takes to achieve what he is aiming for.”

    That is not at all reassuring. Read: “Be damned sure Key wants what you want, because if he doesn’t and you give him the keys you’re right up sh*t creek”.

    “In pursuit of his goals, Key will not hesitate to seek out people he thinks are best-placed to help him. He is decisive and appears genuine,”

    ?!? Smiling assassin is geniuine? Jesus wept. Oh, and for the first sentence – maybe so, but again, that’s only a good thing if his interests happen to align with the rest of the country. Help him, sure. Help him help us? *clap* *clap* *clap* I do believe in fairies!

    “but at the same time does not like giving offence – it’s this aspect of his character which, as we shall explore in part two next week, provides the ammunition for his political opponents to label him “Slippery John’.’

    Oh a simply gorgeous bit of spin their. John Key’s not evasive because he’s got a hidden agenda, he’s not worried that people won’t like his policies, and he’s certainly not whispering tips in the ears of Merryl&Lynch – he’s just a sensitive guy and doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of his political opponents.

    Tui ad right there people. In fact it should be. And now it is…

    On Merryl Lynch – (incidentally – why DID they know so long before any of those of us who actually live in NZ… you know, the people whose 200 million dollars they’re planning on taking)

  2. Tim Ellis 2

    It is a very interesting story, not at all biased and very complete. John Key is very driven, focussed, and strong-willed, with a lot of self-discipline and ambition. In that respect I think he is very similar to Helen Clark. There is a lot of material in there, and very honest, and not just “John Key is fantastic” or is it hatchet job stuff.

    It would be interesting to see an honest, balanced appraisal of the various qualities both John Key and Helen Clark have as leaders. I am a John Key supporter, but one of the interesting things to come through the article is that he is very much a big picture person who is occasionally sloppy with detail. Helen Clark on the other hand is the master of detail. John Key has a very strong decision-making instinct, which he has shown in his business career. It will be interesting to see how readily he can translate that to political leadership as prime minister. Helen Clark seems to be just as decisive, but is more interested in imposing her own will rather than seeking a wide range of views. John Key seeks advice from a wide range of advisers, Helen Clark has a small group she has relied on pretty much exclusively as PM. Helen Clark has a thorough and detailed understanding of history and politics–that has been her life, whereas John Key has been more about making quick decisions. John Key seems better able to deal with highly stressful situations, and never loses his temper. Helen Clark seems less comfortable in a stressful environment. John Key is less willing to take a confrontational approach, and likes to be liked–Helen Clark is more combative and often takes less popular positions for long term political gain.

    Both are pragmatists who have always wanted to be prime minister, and share many similar qualities, while some quite different. It would be nice to see an open debate here on what qualities are needed in a prime minister, and how each of them stack up rather than a partisan “Helen Klark is a lesbian” and “John Key is a business roundtable stooge” sort of debate.

  3. fiona 3

    He doesn’t watch Shortland Street OR Outrageous Fortune. I am deeply suspicious of anyone who watches neither of these!

  4. Will the portrait be an airbrushed twenty-year-old with nice teeth?

    Will the painting end up being sold at a charity auction then burnt when prima facie fraud is uncovered?

    Will slippery attempt a land speed record on route to a footy match?

  5. “Last suit you bought and how much was it? Canali suit. I bought it at Harrods in London and it was $2500.”

    “We like to go to the movies, but we have a home movie theatre”


  6. Hi James,
    Are you painting Helen’s Christchurch townhouse, because Brendon is a good sanderman.

  7. Graeme 7

    I saw this promised yesterday. And mentioned this morning on the Herald site – it’s nice that it is now up.

    I was presently surprised – clicked on the link “page 1 of 15”.

    9000+ words, and only part 1 – I wasn’t expecting that.

  8. IrishBill 8

    Dad, behave.

    Back on topic. If the Herald’s hagiography is accurate, John Key may be the dullest man ever elected to office in this country. I’m also a bit suspicious of an “unauthorised” biography that contains a sidebar where the subject answers questions about his favorite meals, music, etc.

  9. Jeremy Eade 9

    John key is a “big picture person”

    Everybody wants a bigger picture, it’s in the soul of every rational being…
    What does his picture look like? Paint the picture!!

  10. Yes, I got a shock when I saw 15 pages as well.

    A lot of people will fall for the cute (I tend to disagree) school kid pics of him. Did Helen get a 15 page personal write up in 1999? I think not.

    Let’s presume that the second half will also be 9000 words, that is 18,000 words of spin!

    But to be fair on poor little Johnny, no one really knows the guy, so maybe 18000 words of spin is what’s needed….

    Maybe the Helen stuff on Friday was done to balance things, or at least make it look like they were balancing things…

  11. lprent 11

    James: It would have been in 1996. That was the first election she contested as leader.

    Of course she ‘lost’ that one because Winston jumped into bed with Bolger. Ummmm I wonder if history repeats in reverse. Somehow, it seems like the Nat’s just like pissing off potential coalition partners.

  12. Oh yeah, of course, I knew that 😛

    I would love to say one day to put a little faith in our Winnie. Although that may be my wish, it ain’t going to happen 🙁

  13. Graeme 13

    Of course she ‘lost’ that one because Winston jumped into bed with Bolger.

    It’s not ‘lost’ it’s lost.

    1996 was Labour’s worst performance since 1931 … they even lost all the Maaori seats.

  14. Well, only because NZF took advantage of those on the Maori roll. Some would say they took the piss out of them.

    Remember the slick suits, slick glasses etcetera (Not that I can, I was 5)

  15. Monty 15

    I knew the left would be annoyed that the countries largest daily has provided an insight into the man who will be PM in less than four months. I am pleased this article is being widely read (top reference on the website).

    I also predicted that passages will be taken out of context and mis-interpreted.

    Well NZ First support will drop away and features such as this may assist John Key in picking up some of that support.

    Good work NZ Herald – I look forward to the second installment.

  16. Lew 16

    Tim Ellis: “It is a very interesting story, not at all biased and very complete.”

    One out of three. I agree that it’s interesting, but this is clearly not unbiased – it isn’t much more than hagiography, and as such it can’t be complete. As Tane says, an unauthorised history where the main primary sources are the man himself, his family members and friends isn’t really entirely unauthorised. Perhaps John Key genuinely hasn’t made any enemies, but I doubt it.

    I agree with Monty: bits of this will be taken out of context and misinterpreted from this record, by both sides. The thing is there’s so little to misconstrue – nothing in here is controversial; it all paints the same picture of John Key as we already have, just in watercolours now, instead of a pencil-sketch. An 8-page feature in such uncritical terms for a political leader is absolutely unprecedented. The Herald has allegedly had three staff reporters on this full-time for the past 20 weeks. If that’s so I’d expect more than this – not necessarily more content, but more analysis, more skepticism, more interrogation and investigation, and more controversy.

    But at least now we have something to go on. The John Key revealed by this piece is the archetypal Kiwi battler done good – a man who isn’t a wunderkind, but who has conviction (not convictions, you wags) in his abilities and the tenacity to succeed, who is calm under extreme pressure and is prepared to take calculated risks, sober and rational and loyal, a man who believes he can look at any system and improve it, and someone who’s patient, prepared to play the long game. These characteristics are illustrated in a whole lot of folksy ways – he played Monopoly and Five Hundred with his family, (competitively, it must be noted), from a young age. Me too. He likes a quiet drink, but he’s not a pisshead. He loves his mum. He married his teenage sweetheart. He had to fire people, en masse for business reasons, but took no joy in it. And so on. Who can object to any of these things?

    This is John Key as John Key wants to be seen. I think it’s probably clinched the election for him.


  17. lprent 17

    You’re comparing apples with oranges. 1996 was also the first MMP election. The voting patterns changed considerably because they could.

    On your basis, you could also say that the Nat’s plummeted like a stone. Because they had a lot less seats than they’d won in 1993 while parliament increased in the number of seats.

    election turnout seats nats labour others
    1993 election 85.2% 099 50 45 4
    1996 election 88.3% 120 44 37 39

    I suppose you could argue that the Nats didn’t lose as much relatively as Lab. But the number of seats went up by 20 and both major parties went down.

  18. ghostwhowalks 18

    The bit about the ‘Goering bedroom suite’ intrigued me!
    as they say ambition runs in the family.

    AS for his claimed non political attitudes at a younge age.!

    However the reality was that at 19 he was listening to parliament on the car radio.
    And one of Robs Mob. That is interesting as I think he will have his style more in common with Muldoon if he becomes PM

    Its not often remembered but Muldoon ( like Bolger) had a huge drop in votes after his first landslide win- actually having less % of the votes than labour. In MMP terms that woould mean a 1 term government

  19. gobsmacked 19

    There’s a simple test for these media profiles of politicians.

    If you were a party official, in charge of promoting that politician to the public, how much of the newspaper’s profile would you like to edit, to alter or remove?

    In this case, almost nothing. Out of many pages, perhaps one sentence, suggesting Key is sloppy on detail, might be deleted. The rest would be approved.

    Next week the Herald will focus on what Key believes in (and really, what else matters?). Let’s hope they ask the important questions then. They certainly haven’t yet.

  20. What a f*ckin joke! Even aside from this advertorial for Brand Key the Herald has out-shilled itself this weekend! If I might be allowed to linkwhore briefly I have dedicated a cheapshots to Granny:


    It’s a sad day when Michael Laws’ SST column starts to look like the liberal media…

  21. randal 21

    Well what is it about john key that makes him think he knows whats best for ordinary new zealanders? to me he is just another booster, drummer, carpetbagger who has identified a niche market of stupid ‘little people’ who will fall for any slick argument that panders to their over inflated, over weening view of themselves as being important and mattering when they are basically peasants with too much money and not enough brains to do any thing except use up resources like hyper active magpies.

  22. Quoth the Raven 22

    There is a lot of good info about Key in this SST article.

  23. Lew 23

    Replying to myself: “As Tane says, an unauthorised history where”

    Sorry IrishBill, it was you, not Tane. Not that I usually get you mixed up, just that my brain filed this under the wrong Standardista 🙂

    One other observation: While the Herald’s editorial in the same issue says this is designed to head off a party-authored “richly sanitised biography”, it seems more intent on obviating the need for one. Given that the Herald’s already taking a bit of stick for being biased, there would have been significant commercial and reputation advantage in taking the gloves off for this piece. The logical presumption (other than ‘Sod’s implication that the journos wanted a press-sec job) is that they couldn’t find anything. Which raises the question: how hard did they try? At the very least it behoves them to come out and give an answer to that.

    I’m curious to see what Mediawatch, Media7 and the usuals have to say about this.


  24. Lew – that was a bit tongue in cheek. Having said that Kevin Taylor wrote a lot of quite biased stories in 2005 and we all know where he’s ended up.

  25. Lew 25

    Sod: Yeah. A more cynical person than I would say that it’s fair cop because the editor seems to have relinquished that authority to these three journalists: “Our writers, Eugene Bingham, Paula Oliver and Carroll du Chateau, set out with no preconceptions and no brief” (from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/story.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10522371 ).


  26. James Sleep said ”

    “Last suit you bought and how much was it? Canali suit. I bought it at Harrods in London and it was $2500.’

    “We like to go to the movies, but we have a home movie theatre’


    Bit of the green-eyed monster there Mr Sleep. Here’s a free tip – work hard, get a job in the real world, and one day, you might be able to make decisions over what you spend your money on. In the meantime, keep up the slurs, the innuendo, and who knows, you might even get a Labour Party candidacy!

  27. Matty Smith 27

    Wow. I knew the Herald produced bad copy these days, but that’s one of the worst constructed paragraphs I’ve seen in a long, long time.

  28. outofbed 28

    apologies for being off topic…
    It looks like the tv3 poll is going to be better news for labour

  29. Walter Ego 29


    In pursuit of his goals, Key will not hesitate to seek out people he thinks are best-placed to help him. He is decisive and appears genuine, but at the same time does not like giving offence – it’s this aspect of his character which, as we shall explore in part two next week, provides the ammunition for his political opponents to label him “Slippery John’.

    I also thought this by a right-wing commentator at the standard rather nailed john key:

    Essentially, government’s and investment banks attratc the same sort of people who thrive in organisations where people are given huge sums of other people’s money to play with, complex organisational structures to hide within, and an alternative reality to live in.

  30. “Inventory2

    Bit of the green-eyed monster there Mr Sleep. Here’s a free tip – work hard, get a job in the real world, and one day, you might be able to make decisions over what you spend your money on. In the meantime, keep up the slurs, the innuendo, and who knows, you might even get a Labour Party candidacy!”

    Or my tip for the day, stick with labour and you wont feel the need to buy a 2500 dollar suit. Or if you do you wont then go complaining about how much tax you pay and the price of cheese

  31. It could be green cheese and stale James. Ooops – 2 month ban.

  32. Lew 32

    Walter Ego: That’s classic. Who said it in the first place?


  33. randal 33

    key has no goal except to be top dog. as we live in a modern industrial capitalist state he uses the weapon o fchoice which is money. so he has no other chioice but to keep making it and even better taking ot off someone else by churning their money. put him down in afghanistan and see how far he would get mano a mano with some talebans.

  34. Quoth the Raven 34

    This article totally glosses over the currency trading Key was involved in. Contrast that article with the SST article which talks about Key’s friend Andy Krieger.

    The Economist listed Krieger’s speculative attack as one of the best financial trades in history.
    Krieger’s outrageous bet made hundreds of millions of dollars for Bankers Trust, but in New Zealand, Reserve Bank officials were alarmed by the yo-yoing of the dollar.
    “The bank was concerned whether the relatively fledgling foreign exchange market might be damaged with negative consequences for the economy,” a former senior Reserve Bank official told the Sunday Star-Times.
    “It appeared to us there was a person taking positions in the New Zealand dollar, probably with a view to collapsing the currency at some point, or at least making it drop sharply,” he said.

    A phone call was made, but it may not have been quite as colourful as the legend. The finance minister of the day, Sir Roger Douglas, says he never made a call. But the Reserve Bank official clearly remembers staff taking the unusual step of ringing New York, asking why Bankers Trust “seemed hellbent on creating instability in New Zealand by the activities of this dealer”.

    So what does Key think of the swaggering trader seen by the Reserve Bank as a threat to the national interest? Asked if he admired Krieger at the time, Key says, “yes, I think at the time, yes, he was a very intelligent guy.
    “He was a pioneer, in the sense he was one of the few people in the world who understood the options market before it was really established. He blazed a trail and that gave him a strategic advantage early on.”
    Key says he does not believe a moral issue arises for the traders who make these speculative attacks on currencies, or for the dealing rooms that carry out their orders. “I don’t really see it as a judgemental business. You’re simply executing orders for people.

    So key was friends and thought highly of a guy who was fucking with New Zealand’s dollar.

    In the Herald article it has this quote from Gavin Walker: “John was then, and still is, a very likeable character.” In the SST article they have: one former trader describes him as “a bit of a clone”.

    There is quite a contrast in the way the two articles discuss Key laying off hundreds of workers. The Herald shows it like Key was torn up inside. The SST article has

    In the past, Key has appeared proud of his ability to sack without feelings. He told Metro magazine: “They always called me the smiling assassin.”
    These days he insists these were not cheerful sackings

    To me the Herald article beggars belief. This is too important to just gloss over like the Herald has.

  35. bill brown 35

    I think it’s probably clinched the election for him.

    Which is, I think, probably The Herald’s aim.

  36. “put him down in afghanistan and see how far he would get mano a mano with some talebans”

    His name is Key not Rambo. Hells bells get it right – randal.

  37. Monty 37

    Good on the Herald then – after all what the hell do they owe the current Government – Clark with her moaning about cartoonists a few months back, Clark’s senior Foreign Affairs Minister very recently calling the Herald staff (audrey in particular) all sorts of vile names, and then there is the Electoral Finance Act that is a corruption of free speech and democracy.

    Good on them for giving the public what the writers of this blog have been demanding – a decent look at John Key and his drivers and motivations. I daresay better be careful of what you wish for as you may well get it. (And the second installment next week)

    I expect to see John Key lift a little higher in the polls after the current dead cat bounce (Stuff poll out yesterday).

    But Clark and Peters are going to be in for a torrid time over the next two weeks. And when it is proven that Peters was the beneficary of 2 x $100,000 donations then he really will be deep in the long drop that he dug and then filled with his own excretment.

  38. outofbed 38

    TV1 and Tv3 have labour closing the gap
    Duncan Gardner’s analysis was pathetic beyond belief with National on 48% “its hard to see Key loosing this election” ….bollocks
    Key is only 2% away from having to make a deal with the the Maori Party (who he is committed to remove the Maori seats ..that should fly)
    Its going to be very close

  39. Did it ever occur to anyone here, that he is a decent guy, who wants to do what he thinks is best for this country. Oh thats right hes a white male who has worked hard all his life and made money, and he believes in personal responsibility, the left must hate him.

  40. higherstandard 40


    Actually I think most people to the left are quite reasonable and balanced and will, if Key gets elected, say good luck to him and hope he does the best for NZ.

    People of the left like the toss pot who wrote this article ..

    are not representative of most.

  41. gobsmacked 41

    “Did it ever occur to anyone here, that he is a decent guy, who wants to do what he thinks is best for this country.”

    As he doesn’t seem to want to tell us what *would* be best for this country, then, er … No.

    PS Brett, how are you doing on your CTU communist witch-hunt? Ready to apologise yet?

  42. What were the exact poll results for TV3?

  43. gobsmacked:

    Sorry, forgot the question, wasn’t it something about commies being involved in the CTU?

  44. outofbed 44

    nat 48 lab 35

  45. T-rex 45

    Brett – Honestly, yes, that occurs to me frequently.

    I just think he’s fallen in with thieves, and I think they’re going to use him to screw us.

    I don’t dislike Key. I dislike the policies he’s an advocate of, and I dislike the fact that he’s not smart enough to see that his ambitions are going to sell our country up and down the river.

    I dislike the fact that he grew up “wanting to be the prime minister”. You don’t want to elect someone who grew up “wanting to make a million dollars, and wanting to be the prime minister”. That’s not vision and ambition for the country, that’s just the musings of a 12 yearold.

    I don’t like Clark a hell of a lot, I think she’s arrogant and self righteous. But I like her values (or at least quite a few of them), and the fact that she really is an advocate of our country, rather than just trying to collect the position as some sort of f*cking boyscout merit badge. I mean come on – wanting to be Prime Minister when you grow up is about as valid a qualification for the role as wanting to be an astronaut is adequate credential for flying a space shuttle.

    I reckon Key should think a bit more carefully about who he asks for advice. That article makes a big deal about how he “always sought out those who could help him”. Oh good! In a 9 year old, that’s kind of cute. Now though, I think he should be a bit more discerning.

    Key’s musings:
    Hmm, I wonder what NZ could do to improve its accident insurance system. I know, I’ll ask some accident insurers, they’re sure to know all about it. Oh gee wow, they think it should be privatised! Who’da thought it! Well I guess they’ve got no reason to lie, and they’re sure to have my best interests at heart, privatisation it is!.

    He’s either hopelessly and indefensibly naive, or he’s an idiot. Or he’s actually out to screw us (though I honestly don’t think that’s his plan).

    Did you even read Key’s response to the “what would you do with a billion dollars?” question? Buy a private jet?!? Can you even conceive a less imaginative answer? Where the hell is the vision and ambition in that?

    Hell, if I had a billion dollars I’d fund a space program in NZ.

  46. T-rex 46

    Gobsmacked, I don’t imagine it’s actually Key who doesn’t want to tell us. It’s Crosby/Textor who don’t want him to tell us – he’s just listening to the advice of people who can help him.

    He probably thinks he DOES have great policy – afterall, how could it now be when it was all based on advice from people who were in a position to know all about it!

    Rio Tinto know all about GHG emissions legislation, I bet they’re helping write the policy on that. Afterall, they’ve no reason to be anything other than objective to they?

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