Sunny John On His Way

I think I’ll vote for that nice Mr Key!  Elderly constituent

Politicians who smile

John Key with Richie
John Key with Richie McCaw

By Roger Childs

People like politicians who can joke about themselves and smile.

It was an appealing feature of David Lange’s style, and voters could even identify with Rob Muldoon’s twisted grin.

John Key may not have left the nation a better place than when he assumed power, however his popularity during the eight years of office has been extraordinary.

Whatever your political stripe, you have to acknowledge his personal touch in public and his instincts for usually making the right moves.

He got on well with people of all ages and classes, from the royals to school kids. Key would always turn up, whether it was at Auckland’s Gay Pride Parade or in the All Black dressing room, and was happy to pose for selfies.

His personable manner when meeting people, and sympathetic presence in times of crisis like Pike River, Christchurch and Kaikoura, helped to maintain his support base and popularity. This relaxed public image was carefully cultivated, but concealed less well-known links with right wing bloggers; “under-cover” attacks  on political opponents and dubious fund raising.

Bestriding the world stage

A friend of John Key's
A friend of John Key’s

John Key enjoyed the action at international gatherings and mixing with the world’s political movers and shakers.

He got on very well with golfing buddy Barack Obama and was respected by Australian Labour Prime Minster, Julia Gillard. (The three of them were all born in 1961.)

It has to be said that Key was never afraid to put the case of our tiny nation on the world scene and he can take some credit for getting New Zealand elected to the United Nations Security Council.

He enjoyed the limelight and always smiled in the formal photos of world leaders and did not exhibit the pomposity that some exude.

However, how much he achieved internationally will be a source of on-going debate and the demise of TPPA, courtesy of President-elect Trump, is obviously a major disappointment for him. The copybook was also blotted from time to time, by major embarrassments like the hair pulling and the Saudi farm bribe.

A mixed bag on the domestic scene

Right wing leaders rarely make major positive changes to a nation’s well-being, but they are usually canny enough to maintain the policies and institutions that Labour-led administrations have put in place. For example, in Australia, Coalition governments have happily retained the far-reaching reforms and changes made by the Whitlam and Gillard governments.

Too popular to sell off
Too popular to sell off

With his ear close to the electoral ground, Key sensibly continued

~ Kiwisaver

~ Kiwibank

~ Working for Families

~ the Government Super Fund, even though contribution to it were discontinued.

On the issue of the age of eligibility for superannuation, he also saw the vote-catching appeal for drawing a line in the sand for the status quo and refusing to go with what many would see as being the economic logic of making changes.

He also pulled the government back from changes in policies which clearly did not have public support, such as raising class sizes in secondary schools.

Sometimes his judgement was wrong, such as over the flag debate. A new ensign was never going to fly and his personal crusade cost the nation $28 million. However, on the National Cycleways initiative his instincts were spot on.

The down side

poverty-2Most groups and individuals who have fought against injustices in New Zealand will be pleased with John Key’s resignation. Key has promoted the injustices of inequality, housing, the rich – poor gap, selling our assets to overseas corporations, increasing carbon and methane emissions causing global warming… environmental degradation, health, education, tax cuts to the rich at the expense of the poor, and job losses. The list goes on. Charles Drace, “It’s our future”

John Key would like to claim that he has left the nation a better place for his eight years in office, but National under his leadership has not initiated effective policies to deal with:

~ widespread poverty

~ a widening income gap

~ a lack of affordable housing

~ the need for a living wage

~ the pollution of rivers

~ the poisoning of the environment

~ the excessive demands of the Waitangi Tribunal.

All prime ministers are faced with ministers and MPs who misbehave, and Key generally had good instincts on when to put the hard word on. Getting rid of Richard Worth, Pansy Wong, Maurice Williamson and Judith Collins (eventually), were good calls, however Hekia Parata was retained despite major mismanagement of the Education portfolio.

During the Key years the country did come through the Global Financial Crisis without major economic repercussions, and the government books under Bill English’s stewardship did return to the black.

However the latter has been achieved by increasing privatisation of government services from prisons to “social housing”, and massive under-funding of conservation, the arts, health, education, policing and Geonet.

The place in history

keyJohn Key was prime minister for eight years and many people and groups will remember those times with great satisfaction: financial institutions and investors; dairy farmers and employers; Auckland homeowners and high income earners; iwi leaders and tourist operators.

There has been economic stability over that period, but those on low incomes have struggled.

The widening gap between rich and poor is an indictment on Key, and the failure to deal with pressing social and environmental issues is part of a tarnished

The new PM?
The new PM?

legacy.

He will be remembered for his popularity and relaxed manner, and less so for his dubious links to people involved in undercover personal attacks on political opponents.

Will Bill English take up the reins now that he has the Key blessing?

He may remember the last time it came to a vote in 2003: John Key deserted him in favour of Don Brash.