du Fresne on Key

Karl du Fresne blogs a recent column:

At one point Mr Carr, a former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank and chief executive of Jade Corporation, emphatically agreed with something Ms Harre had said. Then Ms Harre agreed with something Mr Barnett, the CEO of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, had said. She even expressed some sympathy for the predicament of business. …

It reinforced my sense that there has been a sudden and profound change in the national mood. This can be partly attributed to the urgent need to deal with a sharply contracting economy, but there is more to it than that.

I think it has a lot to do with . In saying this, I’m back-pedalling somewhat because until relatively recently, I was deeply sceptical about Mr Key. I complained to anyone who was prepared to listen that no one knew quite what he stood for. It seemed to me dangerous to elect a prime minister who appeared to have no fixed ideological reference points.

I wouldn’t quite describe John that way. John has centre right beliefs but also a strong pragmatic streak where he focuses on whether he thinks something will work rather than fitting solutions within an overall consistent ideological framework.

Personally I prefer a greater degree of consistency. There is always a degree of pragmatism with any Government, but (for example) I really don’t like the precedent of instructing the Super Fund Guardians to invest 40% in NZ.

I have now come around to the view that the apparent absence of any non-negotiable positions on Mr Key’s part – the very deficiency that I complained about – may make him the ideal leader for our time.

I referred in a previous column to his relentlessly upbeat disposition. That in itself, I believe, has done a lot to change the mood of a country that previously experienced nine years of essentially downbeat leadership from Helen Clark.

Leadership does count. In businesess the quality of the leadership is a crucial factor. It is less vital in a country – but still of not inconsiderable importance.

The other marked difference between New Zealand under Key and New Zealand under Clark is that the old ideological battle lines have suddenly been erased. The new prime minister is happy to engage with anyone and doesn’t rule out any policy if he senses it might work. There are no ideological no-go zones.

I think is getting closer to the real Key. He does have centre-right beliefs but he is not going to rule out ideas if they are not centre-right. And he shys away from a divide and conquer strategy or winner take all mentality we have seen previously.

Recently we have observed Mr Key’s open-minded approach in the way his government supported Miss Clark’s bid for a top job in the United Nations. I think it’s fair to assume this was done not with a cynical motive – in other words, to get her out of the way – but because Mr Key genuinely believed she had the skills for the post and the appointment would bring credit on New Zealand.

Since then it’s been announced that the National government has appointed former Labour Cabinet Minister Paul Swain as its lead negotiator in talks with the Ngati Porou iwi over Treaty of Waitangi claims.

So far I think as many Labour people have had appointments as National!

This is the antithesis of the rampant cronyism pursued by Labour, under which party loyalists such as former party president Mike Williams and ex-CTU head Ross Wilson were appointed to powerful public positions for which they were not necessarily well-qualified, and in which they could be relied on to carry out the government’s wishes.

Williams does have a business background and would have been arguably suitable on a board or maybe two. But they got greedy and went overboard by appointing him to six, so he could be a state funded Party President.

Wilson to be fair does have a strong ACC background. The most discredited appointment has to be Di Yates to a trans-tasman food authority and they included in her thin credentials for the job that she came from the Waikato where a lot of food is produced!

On that criteria, I should be made Ambassador to Sweden because I live on a road with half a dozen embassies close by.

If any country can pull together to avert the sort of economic catastrophe now engulfing the US and Britain, it should be New Zealand. We are a small, intimate country; everyone knows everyone else and we all speak a common language. Ultimately, the values and concerns that unite us are far greater than those that divide us.

One of the interesting features of Parliament is that, away from the public battleground of the debating chamber, where politicians are inevitably tempted to grandstand, MPs build warm and positive relationships that often cross party lines. You see this when they socialise together.

That sort of rapport could be invaluable right now, when the country urgently needs a sense of common purpose. With his ability to take much of the heat out of politics, Mr Key may be the man to make it happen.

Leadership can help and make a contribution. NZ does remain in a more positive mood than other countries. But sadly I don’t think it will be enough when the US and European economies really crash.

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