Edwards on Key

August 21st, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Brian Edwards blogs on :

Recently I bumped into Paul Henry having coffee with his daughter in trendy Herne Bay. He’s really very nice when you meet him in person off the box. Or maybe it was the civilising presence of his very nice daughter.

Anyway, we got to talking politics, as you do. He was enthusing about John Key whom he’d interviewed that morning. ‘The thing about him,’ he said, ‘is that he just answers the question. You ask him a question and he just answers it. ‘

I’d formed precisely the same impression watching Key on television. He seems natural, unaffected, nice. There’s no sense of the wheels going round in his head as he searches for a clever, stay-out-of-trouble answer. Nothing obviously  Machiavellian. No evident side. ‘He just answers the question.’

I’m tempted to joke that his comms staff have tried their best to train John up to not answer the question, but they’ve failed :-)

Sometimes I get a bit frustrated that John does answer pretty much anything media ask him. Hence we had the PMs views on the schoolboy rugby fight. I don’t really blame John for answering the questions, but do wish media would ask him more about policy issues and less about his view on schoolboy rugby fights.

I’m inclined to think that this is the real John Key, just as the niceness is the real John Key. I’m a Labour man from way back and I’m saying this – Key might just exemplify the core advice we give to all our clients: In your dealings with the media, be straightforward, tell the truth, admit your mistakes.

The John you see is the real John. Many media have commented to me that he hasn’t changed at all since becoming Prime Minister.

Trouble is, Key isn’t the government. If any one person is the government, it’s who doesn’t ‘just answer the question’. Ideologues never just answer the question. Ideologues always have a hidden agenda.

Edwards is correct that Bill doesn’t tend to just answer the question. Bill thinks carefully about his answers. He considers whether his answer is consistent with the past, and could it have ramifications for the future. Bill worries about consistency, precedents, ramifications etc. He sees pretty much every issue as complex (and they usually are)

Bill is not an ideologue. When he was Leader he pursued a very moderate agenda and when he was rolled by Don, the “ideologues” in Caucus were all very much in Don’s corner. And his record as a Minister was pretty much someone focused on what is practical, than the need for philosophical consistency.

This is why the Key-English partnership works pretty well. Neither of them are strongly ideological and Key’s spontaneity works well in the leadership role and Bill’s caution is well suited for a Finance Minister.

Key’s role isn’t unlike what David Lange’s role was – to be the palatable face of the government’s free-market agenda. His role is to be nice, just as Lange’s role was to be the lovable raconteur, the engaging comic, the avuncular Methodist defender of the welfare state. Nice, warm, not scary.

Key is and Lange was the frontman. Whether Lange knew it when he was first chosen as leader is open to question. I doubt that Key is so naïve.

I can see the picture that Brian is trying to draw, but I think the comparison fails. Yes John Key is the warm face of National. He is far more popular than National itself is. But he is not just a smiling frontman who leaves everything to his Ministers.

In fact his style has been more like Helen Clark’s. He intervens often in portfolios, sorting out issues when they begin to threaten the Government. He sorted out the S92A fisaco after no Minister wanted to touch it. He has over-riden his Defence Minister a couple of times. He got his cycleway of course. He also was intimately involved in big packages such as the Youth Opportunities.

I’d even venture an opinion that he may be even more hands on than Helen Clark. Clark would use Michael Cullen a lot to sort out the real thorny issues. So far Key has been doing most of it himself. He is also probably more engaged with coalition management than his predecessors.

So, as the Government slowly but surely rips the heart out of the welfare state, rewarding the rich and punishing the poor, Key’s job as frontman is to be the ultimate populist PM. His numerous U-turns on policy are a reflection of that. If he had an embroidered sampler above the desk in his Beehive office, it would read IF THEY DON’T LIKE IT, CHANGE IT.

Heh that is not entirely off the mark. John will do unpopular things, but sparingly and on his terms. And as I have said before he does not see a compromise as a sign of weakness. He comes from a commercial background where a compromise is normal. It is how deals happen.

The nonsense about ripping the heart out of the welfare state is Brian getting tribal. The Government is spending more money than ever on the welfare state. I wish it would take an axe to parts of WFF, but it won’t.

Despite all his protestations, I’m willing to lay odds that that will be the fate of the misnamed Anti-Smacking legislation. They really hate that.

People should read very carefully what he has and has not said. The reaction to the outcome will be very interesting.

The comments on the blog post are p very interesting, including one from David Lange’s widow – who makes the case that Lange wasn’t just the smiling frontman that people now describe him as.

It is one of the things I love about blogs is that it allows people with direct relevance to a discussion, such as Margaret Pope on Lange, to easily add their contribution.

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36 Responses to “Edwards on Key”

  1. Cerium (22,839 comments) says:

    It’s refreshing to see a straight up genuine non political politician. Especially good to see him at the top, backed by a solid experienced deputy.

    What’s the bet others will see his success and get their trainers to teach them how to act naturally – and they won’t see the irony.

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  2. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    John Key would be a fool to ignore an overwhelming rejection of the anti-smacking legislation, if that proves to be when the referendum ends. The ‘Yes’ lobby already sound as if they are conceding defeat. And they can complain all they like about the question being ‘loaded’, and they and various newspaper editorial writers and columnists can complain all they like about the question being ‘unclear’. Neither was the case.
    The legislation was anti-democratic, and imposed on people who did not want it. If the result proves to be support for overturning the law, then that will be a defeat for those who thought that after two years New Zealanders would just forget about it. Key would be unwise to ignore that. The Greens, it seems to me, did less well at last year’s general election than they had before. Thousands of Polynesian Labour voters in Auckland didn’t go to the booths. The Greens were savvy enough to see that Sue Bradford had become a liability to them, so they didn’t elect her leader.
    So, Smilin’ John might have to do the decent thing. I’ve always said that anyone who mistakes his nice smiles for lack of backbone should think again. Underneath that exterior I bet he can be tougher than nails.

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  3. MajorBloodnok (361 comments) says:

    On the smacking referendum (results due out in a few hours), John needs to LISTEN.

    And remember what he wrote in a letter to all parties in April 2007:

    “I simply believe it is bad law for Parliament to pass a piece of legislation outlawing an activity absolutely, and then expect the Police not to prosecute minor breaches.”

    And act. With more backbone.

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  4. Cerium (22,839 comments) says:

    Jeez, they tried to make it look like the smacking is what smacked down an already terminal Labour government, now they are trying to smack Key over the head with it. There are a LOT more important things to deal with. Aren’t there?

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  5. Danyl Mclauchlan (1,065 comments) says:

    John Key is the warm face of National. He is far more popular than National itself is

    The recent Colmar Brunton and TV3 polls have National polling higher than Key by approx 5%.

    [DPF: That is not the valid comparison. You will find in the history of those two polls the party vote tends to always be higher than the pref pm vote. The point I am making is that if John Key was not PM, National would drop significantly in the polls I believe. ]

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  6. david (2,539 comments) says:

    Hard as he might try to appear reasonable and impartial, Edwards usually slips up with the sort of comment you labelled “tribal”. Thats where he shows his true lack of objectivity and slips into the “Standard mindset” Labour good — National bad. repeat after me Brian, Labour good – Nat ……..

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  7. noodle (151 comments) says:

    John Key is NORMAL. Helen Clark was not. I like NORMAL.

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  8. getstaffed (9,189 comments) says:

    Key might just exemplify the core advice we give to all our clients: In your dealings with the media, be straightforward, tell the truth, admit your mistakes

    So Mr Edwards.. is this the advice you gave Helen? Because from where I’m standing either you did, and she routinely ignored you, or you didn’t and the advice above is nothing but fair weather twaddle.

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  9. Inventory2 (10,100 comments) says:

    Very good question getstaffed – so if Edwards is to be believed, when Helen Clark says “I have no regrets”, she really means it.

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  10. GPT1 (2,089 comments) says:

    Bloody hell, anyone who thinks Bill English is an “ideologue” have not heard policy discussions that I have been involved in. Or, for that matter, ACT members on his “ideology”! Nice spin Edwards but it’s going to be a long hard task painting English as an idelogical enemy of the people.

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  11. RW (8 comments) says:

    “And as I have said before he does not see a compromise as a sign of weakness. He comes from a commercial background where a compromise is normal. It is how deals happen.”

    You mean deals with the devil! Right has nothing to gain from wrong, or good from evil, so every compromise is more power to the ideas you oppose; why compromise if you are right? It’s how bad ideas gain ground. In the commercial world compromise is done to reach a point of exchange. A negotiator goes to the deal with his high mark and low mark already in his head – well that’s fine when you are dealing with private trade. Politics however is dealing with people’s liberty, without their individual consent, to compromise on things related to principles of rights *is* a weakness, and is the root problem of the National & and Act parties. (Rodney’s latest stand on racist seats notwithstanding)

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  12. John Ansell (861 comments) says:

    John Key is one of the few politicians smart enough to see the obvious: that there’s one quality the public hunger for from their politicians more than any other…

    The ability to tell the simple truth.

    They want their bidding done by an honest human being, not a calculating human resource.

    They don’t mind if that human being admits to minor human frailties. They like that. They reward it. It means he’s one of them.

    John Key knows that his flawed pronunciation, sub-par dance moves, and occasional apologies are assets that humanise him and soften his party’s straight-laced, blue rinse image.

    The reason for his stellar rise is his instinct for what most people will and won’t like.

    His decision to take Aroha to Waitangi was the first time the public saw this. It frightened the hell out of his advisors. But he was right: most people liked it. Up he went in the polls.

    John Key knows that the game is all about making most people like him.

    It’s most certainly not about doing what’s right for those people.

    The populist principle states that when you come to a fork in the road – when you’re forced to choose between giving people what they want and giving them what they need – you give them what they want, regardless of the damage you know you’re doing them.

    And you must never, ever, ever try to win them over with reasoned explanation (as Nelson Mandela succeeded in doing when that African audience were hurling abuse at him for wearing a Springboks jersey).

    No. Explaining is losing. Populists never explain. Only leaders do that.

    And so, as long as the polls tell John Key that reducing carbon at all costs is popular, he’ll be all for it.

    But send those same households an invoice for $6000 a year for climate change expenses, and the ETS will be gone before the first howls of abuse have subsided.

    The anti-smacking referendum will be the first test of whether the PM is prepared to put his principles before his popularity.

    I’m picking not.

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  13. big bruv (13,289 comments) says:

    John

    “John Key is one of the few politicians smart enough to see the obvious: that there’s one quality the public hunger for from their politicians more than any other…

    The ability to tell the simple truth.”

    Can you let me know when the gutless socialist prick Key starts telling the truth please.

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  14. Cerium (22,839 comments) says:

    That’s bollocks RW. Most things involve compromise. Within the party, within Caucus, within Cabinet, select committees, and in Parliament. Reaching agreements on the best way to carry out the best policies. It may not always be the easiest way but it is the way in a non-dictatorship.

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  15. big bruv (13,289 comments) says:

    “This is why the Key-English partnership works pretty well. Neither of them are strongly ideological and Key’s spontaneity works well in the leadership role and Bill’s caution is well suited for a Finance Minister”

    And that is why we are doomed as a nation, we will continue to have intergenerational welfare bludgers, rising crime rates, hand outs for Maori and a growing wage and lifestyle gap with Aussie.

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  16. RW (8 comments) says:

    Cerium: Bollocks?? Spoken like a true blue flip-flopper. The constant compromise of stated National principles (see nats constitution) has left them no different to the red team. If that’s your ideal i.e., simply being in power, then that is what you have – congratulations. Compromise is no virtue, what it gets you is a deteriorating mixture of red & blue; the purple party if you will. Speaking of bollocks: if Key and Co had some some then all might be well.

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  17. lilman (891 comments) says:

    One thing I can say with all honesty is that Margret Pope has me at a disadvantage, as David never smiled at me I have nothing to compare with.
    THANK GOD FOR SMALL MERCYS.

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  18. Cerium (22,839 comments) says:

    I’d much rather have politicians that are prepared to change their minds and change their policies based on changing information and circumstances. I don’t care if a few people who have painted themselves into corners call that flip-flopping.

    The world isn’t red, or blue, or purple. That’s an outdated political mindset. Astute politicians like Key look forward and base their decisions on what they see in front of them. Their feet aren’t stuck in concrete of one hue or another.

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  19. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    Cerium,

    You allude to the fact we don’t like in a dictatorship anymore.

    I strongly resent your implication that the previous Labour administration ran a dictatorship.

    Everyone knows it was a semi-benign autocracy.

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  20. Rex Widerstrom (5,260 comments) says:

    getstaffed notes:

    So Mr Edwards.. is this the advice you gave Helen? Because from where I’m standing either you did, and she routinely ignored you, or you didn’t and the advice above is nothing but fair weather twaddle.

    Touché, getstaffed. Reminds me any number of times there’s been a cleanout at the Politburo and the minor functionaries run to distance themselves from the “mistakes” made by the “old, corrupt leadership”… “mistakes” they helped orchestrate.

    Brian Edwards talking to Paul Henry… that brings to mind so many appropriate aphorisms. But I think the most appropriate, given their respective history as failed candidates for opposing parties, is Congreve:

    …when two fools meet, and their follies are opposed.

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  21. Cerium (22,839 comments) says:

    I think the illusion is yours expat, although I acknowledge there was a certain pecking order. And when you remove the head from a chook it is bound to go into a bit of a flap.

    I’m interested to know how you would label Key.

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  22. RW (8 comments) says:

    Cerium said “Astute politicians like Key look forward and base their decisions on what they see in front of them. Their feet aren’t stuck in concrete of one hue or another”
    So what’s the point of voting for them over the others then? You’d never no where you are at with them? I don’t!

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  23. Cerium (22,839 comments) says:

    This might seem bit radical, but I’d prefer to vote for candidates with ability, intelligence, honesty, and whose main aim is to put the country first rather than be bound by some old party tradition or simply seek to get re-elected.

    You know where you stand with them because they are upfront ongoing, not just election wafflers.

    If you get enough MPs of good enough quality I think you are more likely to get good decisions, more likely to get more policies you can agree with, and you are less likely to get bitter and twisted because your colour isn’t always painted.

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  24. RW (8 comments) says:

    But there’s the thing:

    Ability to do what? Helen had ability.
    Intelligence? Helen had this in bucket loads.
    Honesty? Helen was honest, in that she was always honest about her socialism.

    But I wouldn’t want her over these guys or vice versa.

    “You know where you stand with them because they are upfront ongoing, not just election wafflers.”

    You can not be serious?
    They promised my bloody tax cut right up until the election, while they knew they’d not deliver it months before. Regardless of why they won’t give my money back doesn’t change the fact that they knew that they wouldn’t do it before the election -liers!

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  25. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    anyone else reckon cerium is winston peters..?..

    (brand-building..)

    “..but I’d prefer to vote for candidates with ability, intelligence, honesty, and whose main aim is to put the country first rather than be bound by some old party tradition or simply seek to get re-elected.

    You know where you stand with them because they are upfront ongoing, not just election wafflers..”

    (“put (new zealand) first”..(?)..)

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  26. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    Cerium: re your contribution at 1.52pm … There are a LOT more important things to deal with. Aren’t there?

    No.

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  27. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    Ceruim,

    No illusion on my behalf. How would I ‘label’ Key? My aren’t you jingoistic today. Key strikes me as a progressive centrist conservative who as you have already pointed out seems very uncoloured and able to make policy decisions based on need rather than historical partisan dogma.

    I imagine Labour are struggling to relieve themselves of such dogmatic yokes.

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  28. Sector 7g (236 comments) says:

    The people of New Zealand are enjoying Johns honesty due to 9 years of Helen’s blatant dishonesty.

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  29. Neil (556 comments) says:

    On my second to last day in Australia I watched John Key speak and answer questions at the National Press Club.
    NZers should be proud of our PM. Rudd rabbits on incessantly in an attempt to look cerebal. Rudd also has a very nasty manner, revealed at Question time in Australian parliament.
    Key answers the question, looks relaxed about it and is not aiming to ram ideology down our throats.
    NZ is not an ideological nation, except for the far left wing of Labour, the Greens and ACT. People are enjoying having a PM who has no intention taking us into a socialist hole or a free market paradise.
    Bill English is the Bill Birch, the technocrat who makes things work. Likewise National is fortunate to have people like Tony Ryall,Simon Power and Cheris Finlayson who have competence and realism.
    No doubt Key will take some heavy blows in the next two years. All I say, its great that that toxic Wellington atmosphere has lifted.

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  30. noodle (151 comments) says:

    Rudd is creepy. Key is not.

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  31. RW (8 comments) says:

    Sector 7 & Neil: I’m tempted to say: Hahhahahahahahahahahahahha, brilliant, good one; you both had us going there for a minute. But unfortunately I think you’re actually serious.

    Sector: “The people of New Zealand are enjoying Johns honesty due to 9 years of Helen’s blatant dishonesty.” I’m still chuckling, sorry I’ll have to come back to you when I’ve managed to stop laughing; you made me me spit out my wine.

    Neil: “Key answers the question, looks relaxed about it and is not aiming to ram ideology down our throats”, because he hasn’t a principled bone in his body; or he hasn’ tthe balls to tells us what it is. “NZ is not an ideological nation, except for the far left wing of Labour, the Greens and ACT. People are enjoying having a PM who has no intention taking us into a socialist hole or a free market paradise.”
    Is that the same as being morally bankrupt? Philosophically bereft? So where are we off to then…the island of Pragmatasia off the cost of Winstonland?

    Christ sake, if having no principles by which to stand by, except the principle of being *liked* & *clever*, and wanting to hold the middles ground because it’s not to nasty in there is basis of what constitutes being a prime minister these days, we are in more trouble than I first thought – in a few years time the reds are going to eat you & your blue team alive. Geez I hate them reds with a passion, but at least they have the courage to stand for *something*; the Nat’s are just pathetic lettuces.

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  32. Haiku Dave (273 comments) says:

    so free of spin, like
    when he ‘borrows’ girls and takes
    them to waitangi

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  33. paradigm (507 comments) says:

    Apparently RW thinks it is “principled” to win an election on the platform of being a centrist, then suddenly shift to hard right policy.

    If you wanted hard right you should have voted Act; based on the election results anyone who thought that way is either in a small minority or too ignorant to read how National was positioning its self.

    John Key is doing exactly what he promised, running a centrist government looking to incrementally reduce government size without causing major shakeups. Don’t know why everyone is so surprised, unless they bought labour propaganda that John Key had a secret ultra right agenda.

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  34. Glutaemus Maximus (2,207 comments) says:

    I think hes got beautiful legs!

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  35. louie (89 comments) says:

    Edwards : ” as the Government slowly but surely rips the heart out of the welfare state,”.
    I guess BE is worried about those on $150K+ and drawing down Working for Ipods benefits too…

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  36. RW (8 comments) says:

    paradigm: “reducing government size”?!? AHahahahahahah. Again, brilliant!
    I’ll put $100 bucks on there being more government, more legislation, more controls, more tax, more inflation, and less freedom at the end of their rein than when they took office. National have been good enough to demonstarte that every time they get their hands on the leavers, they are fundementally the same as the other mob. At least the other mob don’t mind admitting what they are. At least the other mob make it clear they are the enemy of freedom; the Nats are the hidden shallows & no friend liberty.

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