Hawkes Bay Tribune
I have only met John Key once. He was either standing for parliament or recently elected. I can’t remember. A prominent television newsreader, whom we were helping to add ‘interviewer’ to his range of skills, had invited him along as a guest. It was usual for trainee interviewers to rope in politicians as interview subjects. The would-be interviewers could practise their interrogation skills and the politicians could practise fending them off.
We knew little or nothing about Key at the time, so the impressions we had of him were first impressions which, they say, are the most lasting. Key was easy, engaging, pleasant, a man seemingly comfortable in his own skin and a good listener. If he was indeed going places, he displayed neither arrogance nor self-importance. You would have said, as the country has been saying for two years now, that he was ‘a nice bloke’. We may have given him a couple of tips on how to improve his on-camera performance, but not enough to constitute disloyalty to our #1 client.
I was reminded of this occasion by John Armstrong’s column in the Weekend Herald, ‘Politician of the year: John Key’, sub-headed ‘Get used to it, Labour, he’s the man the country wants in charge’.
The column was as much a critique of Labour and its leader Phil Goff as it was a paean of praise for the Prime Minister.
The left dismisses the most popular Prime Minister in New Zealand’s recent political history as Smile and Wave John Key, Do Nothing John Key and Lucky John Key. The left’s fatal error has been to constantly underrate Key in terms of ability and the fact that though he is of centre-right disposition, he is firmly at the moderate end of that broad spectrum. Key does not fit the left’s mould, which assumes or even dictates that someone as wealthy as him must be an acolyte of the old New Right. In short, Key’s critics on the left still don’t get it. Maybe the Mana byelection will remove a few scales from a few eyes. It should. That result was a gruesome preview of the slaughter that may well be inflicted on Labour at the end of next year.
Armstrong went on to list Key’s achievements and Goff’s failings.
But has Key been as good a Prime Minister and Goff as bad a Leader of the Opposition as Armstrong – whom I regard as our most astute political writer – suggests?
Goff, it must be remembered, faces the same problem as every other Leader of the Opposition – he has to work much harder to get coverage than the PM or even a middle-ranked Cabinet Minister. Governments act, oppositions react. And generally the reaction is carping and negative. Put slightly differently, governments do, oppositions just talk.
The advantage of being in power is never more evident than during times of national crisis. Though it may seem cynical to say so, disasters, handled well, are a boon to politicians in power, while their opposition counterparts are largely sidelined. Who wants to talk to Phil Goff about the Canterbury earthquake or the Pike River mining disaster? He can do nothing about either beyond expressing his concern and sympathy for the victims and their families. Key, it must be said, handled the two events superbly, both in terms of being there and offering his personal and his government’s support. Goff, through no fault of his own, was conspicuous by his absence from the media coverage. If anyone doubts the role which a disaster can play in shaping a political leader’s fortunes, they need look no further than Jim Anderton and Bob Parker. Read the rest of this entry »