In today’s ODT Colin James raises the question of how long Key will stay as the Prime Minister.
James has been around too long to get caught out by hanging his hat on a prediction but he’s not ruling out Key stepping down in his second term:
If in the next term National needs both parties for a majority (likely if, say, Labour gets 38 per cent and the Greens 6 per cent), managing their antithetical positions to pass contentious legislation will be very challenging — or paralysing.
Even if there is a super-majority again (a real possibility), can Key keep both in the tent?
He has given the Maori party some big mana wins and whanau ora. There is not much more mana he can deliver without upsetting conservative National members and voters. Whanau ora has potential to embarrass if not very tightly managed.
On the other side, Rodney Hide has had some big wins in deregulation and local government this term plus some totemic wins. What can Key give him in a second term that doesn’t scare the centre? (Might Hide look elsewhere to continue his career: for example, the Auckland mayoralty in 2013?)
And all the while, the economy will not be flying high and might even have another bad turn, given the debt-driven turmoil and huge uncertainties in the global economy. The 2014 election might look grim. Will Key want to risk a loss?
The point is that so far Key has not hit any big bumps in the road nor has he had to make any really hard decisions. That has maximised the openings in the clouds for his sunny personality to shine through on his party.
On one hand Key has steel (despite his carefully developed smile and wave persona) so he may stay for a third term if he wins a second.
On the other hand he’s a currency trader by nature and few traders have made their fortune by hanging on while their currency keeps diving and, as I pointed out in a previous post, there’s a strong chance that National’s stocks will take a hammering in a second term.
Part of the reason Key has not “had to make any really hard decisions” is because National’s backers have been held at bay. And a big part of what has held them back has been Key and his popularity and the role it will play in securing a second term..
But make no mistake – a second term will see the dogs being let off the leash which is why there’s a push for an early election from some parts of the party. The problem is Key won’t like having his carefully crafted “man of the people” image being eroded by having to front the endless unemployment/health crisis/privatisation issues. It just won’t be fun any more.
So unlike James I’m gonna make a prediction and that’s that Key will go before 2014 simply because he can. Unlike Bill English, Key hasn’t invested his life in the National Party. This has meant he’s got no nasty tory political back story but does have a pragmatic deal-making touch (just right for a frontman) but it also means there’s no reason for him to stick around and risk his legacy as a popular PM. As is so often the way in this game a politician’s strengths are ultimately also their weaknesses.
Key is a fair-weather prime minister but it’s not likely the fair weather will last for much longer.