• John Key Has Gone – Why?

    What are we to make of John Key’s bombshell?  Reactions will obviously vary according to the political views of those making them, but his statement should be taken – initially at least – at face value.  We should all understand the pressures that public life imposes, particularly on the major players.  Living in the limelight is not by any means as much fun as it seems.

    The Prime Minister may have been feeling the effects of a strenuous by-election campaign in Mount Roskill, and defeat there may have offered a glimpse of what a general election defeat might feel like.  He may also have been at a low ebb, perhaps disheartened by the election of Donald Trump and what that has meant for the TPPA; he may have felt very keenly the loss of what was very much his own pet project.

    It may simply be that he felt that he had done all that he could and that, as he himself says, he had “nothing left in the tank”.  And perhaps he sees the advantage, in terms of his legacy, of retiring while still on top and undefeated, rather than running the risk that the voters will tell him next year that it is time to go.

    The British politician, Enoch Powell, once famously said, with pardonable and only slight exaggeration, that “all political careers end in failure”.  John Key may not have been familiar with that well-known quotation but he may still have been tempted to disprove the wisdom it claims to represent.

    Whatever the truth of such speculations, there will certainly be many well-earned tributes paid to him and his record of success as a vote-gathering political leader.  He has undoubtedly been one of the most successful and popular of our prime ministers – though, it must be remembered, that, despite the impression often peddled by National party acolytes, only one in three of eligible voters actually voted for him and his government in 2014.

    His “nice guy” image certainly struck a chord with many voters, even if others deplored his glibness and, on occasion, apparent slipperiness.  He was faced with serious challenges – the Global Financial Crisis and the Canterbury earthquake – and on the whole dealt with them calmly and competently.

    His handling of the Pike River disaster, however, was less compelling and his record has been threatened by the crisis in housing affordability and homelessness, by the growing sense of a society where significant numbers are left behind, and by the excessive attention he seems to have paid to business interests at the expense of working people.

    Nor can it be said that his government has succeeded in the overdue task of re-balancing the New Zealand economy.  Our current supposed “success” is still far too dependent on excessive borrowing, consumption and imports, while productivity, investment and exports languish.  And “the deficit” on which so much attention has been focused is not the one that really matters, the deficit we have with the rest of the world – the one that means we constantly have to borrow to balance the books.

    The real question about his resignation, however, is its timing.  Why now?  It is not as though he has another big job – perhaps on the international stage – lined up.  Nor does he need time, for financial reasons, to build another career in order to provide for his family.

    It could be argued, with some justice, that he took a principled decision to take the NZ public into his confidence so that he cannot be accused, after the 2017 election, of misleading them as to his intentions.  But the mystery deepens when we recall that it was only a few hours earlier that he was relishing the challenge that he was to face in his own electorate from Hayley Holt.

    For a Prime Minister to resign in this unexpected way must suggest that he is acting under some pressing imperative.  The one he identifies is that his wife has asked him to take this step and that his children have suffered – though he must know that Max Key’s foibles will still attract attention, even if his father is out of office.

    If that is the reason, he is to be commended.  But imperatives come in many different forms.  Time will tell whether that is the full explanation.

    Bryan Gould

    5 December 2016


  1. ann johns says: December 7, 2016 at 5:45 amReply

    When he takes up the job as the head of the IMF, then you will know why he quit the job here. Bigger pastures, more people to hurt, whole countries. The irony is that he will be demanding NZ pay back the phenomenal loan that he borrowed in our name.

  2. Dr. Graeme W. Ferguson says: December 7, 2016 at 6:39 amReply

    John Key has never done anything principled so your suggestion that he was acting now rather than misleading voters in the 2017 election is wide of the mark. I’m tired of hearing what a fine PM he was. If he was principled he might have earned some respect. A principled man would have cared about social justice and not treated us like consumers rather than the citizens that we are. A principled man would have cared about the environment and sustainability rather than the exploitation of resources regardless of consequences. A principled man would not have pandered the the corporate sector but sought to implement policies that benefit all sectors especially those left behind by neoloiberal dogma of the past 30 years. A principled man would have addressed pressing issues such as the housing crisis rather than shrugging his shoulders and pretending all is well. A principled man would understand that we live in a society not an economy and asked how best to meet the needs of all not just the fat cats with their holiday mansions in the far north. What is that maxim about fooling some of the people some of the time? Perhaps his departure has more to do with getting out before the masses wake up to the fact that he was indeed a man without substance or principle?

  3. Susie says: December 7, 2016 at 11:39 pmReply

    Bryan, with customary logic and mastership of understatement, you say it all. Yes, we wait with interest to see what the reason was for such an outrageously sudden departure. Almost as if something is about to land on where he is standing . . .