Bye bye John Key. Illustration by José Barbosa.
Bye bye John Key. Illustration by José Barbosa.

PoliticsDecember 5, 2016

Group Think: David Slack, Morgan Godfery, David Seymour, Annabelle Lee and more on John Key’s resignation

Bye bye John Key. Illustration by José Barbosa.
Bye bye John Key. Illustration by José Barbosa.

John Key resigns as prime minister: what does it all mean? A range of commentators from all points on the political spectrum weigh in.

John Key bye bye. Original illustration by José Barbosa.
John Key bye bye. Original illustration by José Barbosa.

Jennifer Lees-Marshment: A chance to refresh the National brand

John Key’s resignation will carry strategic benefits for National – even if it wasn’t designed to. It means the party can find a vibrant new leader who can lure voters with a refreshed new brand.

Without doubt, Key has been an incredibly effective leader and will go down as one of the most successful politicians in the world. But there are hidden stories to his leadership, negative and positive. He always led Andrew Little in the polls, but being better than a poorly-rated opposition leader is not that good. Another negative – he has undermined his own brand this year by denying the housing crisis and  downplaying Auckland’s traffic chaos. Theses mistakes make him appear disconnected, with little understanding of life for ordinary New Zealanders. He has failed to live by his own wise assertion, made after 2014’s election victory, that the party must avoid arrogance.

The positive legacy of Key’s leadership is his brilliant management. He assembled a team of talented ministers, several of whom could become an effective Prime Minister. So while he leaves New Zealand more ambitious, dynamic and vibrant, the country now needs someone new. The National brand may have had a shock, but now the party can rejuvenate and increase the chance of winning in 2017 and 2020.

Jennifer Lees-Marshment is associate professor in Politics and International Relations, University of Auckland


David Slack: A legacy of meaningful change?

John Key described in his resignation press conference a New Zealand that has become much more engaged with the world. From a legacy point of view, that’s where his government has possibly been doing its best work. But has it done enough to make a meaningful change?

A PM who has been seeing all the innovation and deals and excitement will of course be feeling that buzz, but most of the country isn’t ever standing in that room or sitting on that trade mission flight, or drinking those cocktails in San Francisco.

Yes, the economy has been diversifying, somewhat, and we are engaging more, somewhat, and that could bring good things for our future, but where we are and where we could land are two quite different and far apart points for now.

How do we ever get there without getting the wider country much more involved and informed and engaged, and sold on the whole idea? Has enough excitement or motivation gone wide enough among ordinary New Zealanders to make any meaningful difference or create momentum for real change yet? Perhaps that’s part of the regret Key was expressing about the flag.

Meanwhile, front and centre are: poverty, inequality and unaffordable housing. This government has been too much and too long a shrugging spectator about those problems to deserve re-election. Prime Minister English or Collins or Joyce or god-help-us-Bennett could belatedly throw the government into action, yes. But I wouldn’t be willing to put twenty bucks on it.

David Slack is a satirist, commentator, speech writer and more

Morgan Godfery: An able triangulator

John Key is an enigma: the bloke you’d rather have a beer with, even though he minces down catwalks and might tug your daughter’s ponytail; the great communicator who struggles with rhetoric and oratory (he excels in banter, though); and the apparently conservative Prime Minister in his eighth year of Keynesian expansion.

The politician Key prefers to identify with is Sir Keith Holyoake, the four term-winning National Prime Minister. “Kiwi Keith,” they used to call him, the prime minister responsible for liberal reforms like abolishing capital punishment and extending bar closing times. Yet Holyoake was also the man responsible for sending New Zealand soldiers to Vietnam, reforming employment law (changing so-called “compulsory unionism”) and pushing a harmful “integration” policy for Maori.

It’s a fitting comparison for Key, the prime minister responsible for financing infrastructure projects with government debt – something only shit-for-brains leftist radicals are meant to do, apparently. But at the same time Key was overseeing the communist-sounding “roads of national significance” spending in health declined in real terms. While Key’s government settled more Treaty claims than any other, the Maori unemployment rate was double the national rate under his watch.

In truth, Key is a better successor to the centre-left’s Helen Clark, Tony Blair, Paul Keating and Bill Clinton. All popular – though Key remains more popular and has done so for longer – all liberals rather than leftists, and all triangulators. Their legacy is managing the status quo better than those who came before. I’m not sure there’s anything more grand to say about Key than that. No deep truth. He just did what he did.

Morgan Godfery is a writer

Annabelle Lee: Expect fissures to emerge

This is a dream come true for journalists who were expecting a fairly dreary election with National cake walking back to the treasury bench.

Key’s legacy will be a master class in the power of personality.

As for what happens next, finally politics just got interesting again – be under no illusions this is a devastating blow for National. I expect we’ll soon see fissures form within National and among their political partners.

Annabelle Lee is executive producer of The Hui

Shamubeel Eaqub: Welcome to the charisma desert

Key’s legacy will be one of popular approval and incremental pragmatism when it comes to public policy. With key gone, our politics will now be a desert land devoid of charisma. The National Party will have to think hard about how to sell another term when faced with a crisis in housing that they have overseen. With a policy guy now in charge, they can’t rely on Teflon charisma, they have to provide some concrete policy proposals.

Shamubeel Eaqub is an economist

Keith Ng: A missed opportunity

Key is leaving as a popular PM because he never used his political capital to deal with the housing crisis or superannuation.Those problems had unpopular solutions, and are exactly the sort of stuff that requires a popular frontman to sell. Instead it’s getting kicked down the road, so I think Key’s popularity is a missed opportunity rather than an achievement.

Keith Ng is a writer and data wizard

David Seymour: Bill English should be next

Congratulations to John Key for a successful eight-year Prime Ministership. He’s guided us steadily through a financial crisis, the Rena disaster, and major seismic upheaval. All the while businesses have enjoyed the confidence to grow under a stable, orthodox economic programme.

In resigning, John Key has pulled off the rare trick of recognising his own political mortality before having to experience it first-hand. More importantly however is the chance this gives him to reclaim a normal life with his family. He’s certainly earned it.

Looking ahead, this is a chance for New Zealand to revisit some of the long-term issues that have been left unaddressed over the last eight years. For all of the John Key’s skill as a day-to-day manager, this Government is allowing superannuation costs and housing prices to escalate unacceptably over the long term.

Bill English is best-equipped, intellectually and temperamentally, to bring these problems under control, which is why he is ACT’s preference for next Prime Minister.


More on John Key’s resignation:

Toby Manhire: Bloody hell, John Key just quit as prime minister. This is not how things happen!

Ben Thomas: The Great Reassurer: How John Key’s calmness was his greatest strength

Gone by Lunchtime emergency podcast: Toby Manhire, Ben Thomas and Hayden Donnell on today’s shock news

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