Key’s formula

September 12th, 2009 at 2:48 pm by David Farrar

writes in the Dom Post:

If they could bottle what ’s got and sell it, National would make a killing.

It might be a seemingly innocuous brew of good humour and affability, rather than the traditionally more coveted mix of charisma and skilled oratory, but it clearly works.

I’m going to return back to what Tracy wrote, but want to cut over to another story that I think is a superb example of what Tracy is on about. It is this one about firefighters protesting outside the opening of a new fire station by the Prime Minister, over their pay claim.

Now this is the sort of issue that would normally prompt a discussion in the PMs Office and the PM. You will be worried about the negative message getting in the way of the positive message about funding a new fire station.

Now I can say with some certainty that the way previous National PMs would have handled the situation is to have the Minister of Internal Affairs do a press release and briefing the day before the briefing setting out how the Firefighters Union is misleading over their pay claims, and that with their various allowance they rake in $70,000 and spend so much of their time sleeping on standby, most can easily do a second job, and that their total pay per hour actually spent working is well over $50 an hour. This would then put the pressure on the union and protesters to respond, and take the heat off the PM.

Again with some confidence I can say former Labour PMs would handle it very similarly. The key difference would be that they wouldn’t have the Internal Affairs Minister release the information publicly, as they don’t like to be seen crapping on the unions that fund them. Instead a press secretary would give the relevant information to a journalist, and they would rely on the rest of the media picking up the story.

So what did John Key do:

The firefighters, in their yellow protective clothing, waved placards, chanted and pressed themselves against the station’s glass roller doors as Mr Key spoke.

After the opening, he went outside and addressed them through a megaphone.

He insisted he had not yet received a recommendation on wage rises from the Fire Service.

“All we’re saying to you guys is we’re living in a backdrop where a hell of a lot of people are losing their job, where the Government is running big deficits and where we’ve all got to be reasonable.”

Mr Key said that if insurance levies, which pay the Fire Service’s wages, went up then more pressure would be placed on taxpayers, already struggling with the recession.

“At the end of the day what we’re trying to do is make sure there isn’t huge pressure on a lot of people that are losing their jobs,” he said.

Union spokesman Boyd Raines said Mr Key’s response was “fairly predictable in terms of the Nats’ party line”.

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However, Mr Raines added: “It was good to see that he actually had the balls to come out and actually front up to the crowd.”

And quite a few of the protesters would have said the same thing. Don’t get me wrong – they are not going to suddenly convert to National because of what Key did. But they will say, “Hey at least he did us the decency of listening to us, and talking to us- rather than just attack us”.

And this is what is a strength of Key’s. He comes across as so reasonable. Apart from some of the authors of The Standard (and some of the commenters on this blog!), most people can see that and respond to that. They think he’s a nice talented guy, who tries to reasonably engage with everyone – even those who are there to protest against him.

So back to what Tracy said:

This is what has Labour strategists scratching their heads. As the party heads into its annual conference in Rotorua this weekend, it faces the same dilemma National once faced: when your opponent’s most potent weapon is its leader, is an old-fashioned contest of ideas going to be enough?

Maybe it’s that “what you see is what you get” quality to Mr Key’s leadership that strikes a chord with voters. It is hard to find artifice in a man who makes verbal gaffes, has a nice line in self-deprecating humour, talks about his kids a lot and has never worried too much about looking statesmanlike.

Again, one could imagine it easy to have someone advising the PM that whatever you do don’t pick up a megaphone and talk to the protesters. The arguments would be that it is undignified, it puts you on their level, it might look bad on the news etc etc. But he doesn’t worry about that very much.

Politicians have never underestimated the power of a friendly smile and an open and engaging face. crawled out from under the ignominy of dismal poll ratings as Opposition leader by smiling more and softening her voice under the tutelage of and . The remarkable thing is that she even had to be taught; in a more relaxed setting, Miss Clark loves nothing more than a good laugh, and does so boisterously and often. But she almost had to unlearn years of political training to unlock the person within and even then never managed to drop the shield completely.

Of course, spin doctoring can only go so far and, in the wrong hands, a politician’s smile can be an unmitigated disaster. Take British Prime Minister . He cemented his unpopularity only after an attempt to connect with voters by smiling scarily and at random through an infamous YouTube clip.

Simon Hoggart, in The Guardian, likened it to “the smile a 50-year-old man might use on the parents of the 23-year-old woman he is dating, in a doomed attempt to reassure them”. Even Mr Brown’s own colleagues could not hold back from poking fun at him.

Ha that is a great analogy.

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51 Responses to “Key’s formula”

  1. dave (988 comments) says:

    Interesting… another Labour party conference, another pic with a guy with a megaphone in the media the same weekend …..

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  2. emmess (1,428 comments) says:

    Is it just me or was it in really bad taste that of all people, a firefighters union chose September 11 to protest for something as insignificant as a few extra bucks in the grand scheme of things?

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  3. Nigel (514 comments) says:

    I think Key shows real strength in doing things like this, he is not shying away from issues & hopefully he’ll rewrite the rulebook DPF was reading from, that rulebook is a real factor in why politicians get such a low Public trust & respect rating, running away from issues might win short term, but mid-long term I think it’s corrosive to public respect.
    There’s a component of Muldoon here I like to, they are both fearless & tough, thankfully Key is less combative with it :). Maybe it’s the self confidence of already being successful in life which means that unlike Clarke being PM & politics does not define him & instead gives him real freedom to do what he considers right.

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  4. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    Johns either a natural politician or has very good PR, or both.

    Either way he seems to be neutralising Labours unspoken strategy of dredging up union activity.

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  5. Cerium (23,559 comments) says:

    One of the Key things is that he doesn’t come across as a politician, but as a bloke who is genuinely trying to do what he things is best, undoctored.

    It may be that the era of spin has spun out.

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  6. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    Well, obviously Labour are getting bad advice if their heartland bus tour was anything to go by!

    LOL, a quick chorus of Roger Whittaker anyone?

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  7. getstaffed (9,186 comments) says:

    The arguments would be that it is undignified, it puts you on their level, it might look bad on the news etc etc

    Slightly OT, but in the mid/late 80’s I recall seeing TV reporter speaking with David Lange who had just been besieged with Farmers complaining that the then horrendous interest rates (>20% if I recall..). The reporter asked is the farmers were unhappy at being forced off their land. He replied “Yes, they drove up here in their Range Rovers to tell me that”. I’ve never forgotten the arrogance of that statement.

    Yes, some farmers in NZ had Range Rovers thanks to those ridiculous SMP’s. But the people protesting that day were at the sharp end of mortgagee sales.

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  8. Tim Ellis (251 comments) says:

    I was amused by another report elsewhere of the protest, which had a protester holding up a sign saying: “Bring back Helen!”

    Apparently, the protesters haven’t heard that Mr Goff is the Labour leader yet.

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  9. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    Helen has a nw mobile phone – the Nokia PhilGoff 2011

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  10. side show bob (3,660 comments) says:

    I quite like Shonkey and I know it’s bloody hard to please all the people all the time. I hope he never loses his belief that he can make a difference but I suspect he’ll need more then just a smile in the coming years. He must realise that people voted for a change but we especially voted for someone that we hoped would listen, we need leadership not dictatorship and arrogance similar to the last nine years. I also think his and Nationals stand on AGW is total madness and can not understand how supposedly educated men can be so thick. But just because you are thick doesn’t mean you are a bad bastard, it’s just a failing.

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  11. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    Yeah, lets join a generally unrepresentative (of the world major carbon emitters) group of countries who are going to tax each other and spend the money on beauraucrats, a group that doesnt include our closest major trade partner or the east or the US and generally wont make a jot of difference. Can you begin to see why?

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  12. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    As I said, and wont generally make a jot of difference.

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  13. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “..But just because you are thick doesn’t mean you are a bad bastard, it’s just a failing..”

    i guess that could be the most charitable view of you..?

    eh bloody-hands-bob..?

    btw..i hear bankers now call the dairy-industry…’white-death’..

    have you heard that..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  14. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    btw…

    i wd like to note that i predicted the path/ideological switch key wd take..

    ..way back when he knifed brash..

    and at that time..

    noted that national and labor were so indivisible ideologically..

    that any more moving to the right by labour..

    ..wd see the two old parties swapping places on the ideological spectrum..

    this in part supports the case that labour will need to move to the progressive policies..

    the long flirtation with the right..is over..

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  15. Johnboy (16,516 comments) says:

    Had a fire at our factory 20 odd years ago, used to think firemen were good guys. When we were trying to fill the skips with damaged stock for the tip they were putting themselves in harms way to scavange it. They kept coming back for three days till there was nothing left to grab. Never did rate them up there with Pilot’s and Nurse’s after that little episode. Overpaid layabouts IMHO. Lower Hutt brigade it was, professional firefighters I think they like to call themselves! Give me the volunteers any day!

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  16. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    no, havent heard that one but bankers arent reknown for their wit

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  17. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    you’ve always been against recycling/dumpster-diving there..?..john-boy..?

    you’d rather it all went to the tip..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  18. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “..no, havent heard that one but bankers arent reknown for their wit..”

    it’s more black/gallows-humour..

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  19. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    I can imagine their are plenty of farmers in financial difficulty at present.

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  20. Johnboy (16,516 comments) says:

    Not at all phil, would not like to see you miss out on your evening meal.

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  21. Blue Coast (165 comments) says:

    Perhaps its just JK is genuine and likes talking to people and has enough courage and back bone to be prepared to chat to anyone anywhere. Why should he be scared to talk to a few fire fighters who are after all rated very high in the popular stakes.

    May be I am seeing his approach as to simple to work. Wait what are the polls saying

    I just hope the photo brushed PM’s are a long time coming again.

    At a function during the week where JK was he went out of his way to allow ordinary non National families to get a photo with him and also made sure he made contact with all others on his departure.

    It was not forced he was just enjoying himself.

    I know that is not what the spin doctors want but its working.

    That is what ordinary Kiwi’s want. A PM who is just one of them and treats them as such when they meet.

    After all that he needs to move a little (ok a long way) right to suit my wants. Believe me I more closer to Sir Rogers D side in my views than that of the current “centre” approach.

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  22. Johnboy (16,516 comments) says:

    What are—–“ordinary non National families ” may I ask?

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  23. big bruv (13,884 comments) says:

    Altogether now…organised cheering for the “nice man” will begin on the count of three…

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  24. big bruv (13,884 comments) says:

    I loved this little bit…

    “And this is what is a strength of Key’s. He comes across as so reasonable. Apart from some of the authors of The Standard (and some of the commenters on this blog!), most people can see that and respond to that. They think he’s a nice talented guy, who tries to reasonably engage with everyone – even those who are there to protest against him.”

    Nobody (well apart from the Standard) would argue that Key comes across as a nice guy, the thing is DPF is that we did not elect the man to be a “nice guy”, we elected him mainly because he is not Helen Clark, and mainly because he promised to be different.

    Turns out he is a liar, just like Clark and just like Labour, what gets me all the more is that not one of his caucus is brave enough or unselfish enough to confront the man publicly about it.

    I simply refuse to believe that any sane National party member (cheer leaders aside) would be happy with the gutless way he has led this country.

    [DPF: How many do you know? I know probably close to 1,000 members]

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  25. Blue Coast (165 comments) says:

    No BB I am more a Sir R D man than a cheerleader for JK. Just pointing out my obseravtions.

    Johnboy. How about your opinion.

    Hint Philu does not fit.

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  26. reid (16,442 comments) says:

    From my observation Key is his own man in that his perception of his own self-worth isn’t tied to being PM

    Lange and Muldoon also had this trait in spades. Bolger also had it to a large degree but not quite as much as those two predecessors.

    Hulun didn’t, at all, in any way. Neither does Goff.

    People notice this and read it as a sign of security and if the PM is secure then so the people feel, and vice versa

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  27. big bruv (13,884 comments) says:

    Sorry, should have read “that Key comes across as anything but a nice guy”

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  28. Johnboy (16,516 comments) says:

    “Johnboy. How about your opinion.

    Hint Philu does not fit.”

    True BC he only fits in rubbish skips.

    Your post suggests that “National families” are not ordinary hence inferring that Labours idea of families ie: Gay or solo, dependant on welfare are “ordinary”.

    Still if you are suggesting that all us rightly inclined families are in fact “extraordinary” in all ways then I can see your point.

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  29. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “..Blue Coast (21) Vote: Add rating 0 Subtract rating 0 Says:
    September 12th, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    No BB I am more a Sir R D man than a cheerleader for JK…”

    you’d be a big supporter of the dpb..eh..?

    and muldoon..?

    (good grief..!..)

    and blue-coast..and johnboy..really should start exchanging emails..

    eh..?

    they cd reminisce about the good old days…together..

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  30. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    b.b’s getting all bitter and twisted…eh..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  31. Blue Coast (165 comments) says:

    Johnboy

    I think we are heading in the right direction albeit not very PC.

    As I come from die hard Liarbour supporters and been feed the crap from birth I have to say despite their beliefs they are ordinary kiwi’s.

    What I meant that they are ordinary families who respect the law, look after their kids, provide for themselves and generally are the guys you share the side line with at the Saturday morning rugby/netball.

    They don’t whing about the goverment owning them a living.

    Believe or not that is what most of our communities are made up of and the small percentage that expect us to keep them and moan about the hard life need to be told to FO.

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  32. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “..and generally are the guys you share the side line with at the Saturday morning rugby/netball..”

    that’s all very norman rockwellish..

    but what about those soccer-parents who have had to share the sideline with me..?

    ..for seven or so seasons..?

    ..will they be ‘tainted’..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  33. big bruv (13,884 comments) says:

    “but what about those soccer-parents who have had to share the sideline with me..?”

    They deserve our deepest sympathies.

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  34. Fletch (6,367 comments) says:

    Tim Ellis

    I was amused by another report elsewhere of the protest, which had a protester holding up a sign saying: “Bring back Helen!”

    heh, you can see half the sign in the background of the John Key pic in the story.

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  35. kino flo (83 comments) says:

    “heh, you can see half the sign in the background of the John Key pic in the story.”

    It’s a little hard to see, obscured as it is by all the DPS. Hi Danny! Nice tie.

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  36. Johnboy (16,516 comments) says:

    “but what about those soccer-parents who have had to share the sideline with me..?

    ..for seven or so seasons..?

    ..will they be ‘tainted’..?

    If you just dined at the skip outside the local curry house phil I would have to say yes on that one.

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  37. side show bob (3,660 comments) says:

    PhilU, I’m sure some bankers are stocking up on Valium as there are those ( farmers ) out there in quite a bit of trouble. There are also many “townies” that have invested in joint venture farms sweating at present. But at the moment things are looking positive and product is fetching better prices at auction. Big telecast on the 18th on what Fonterra wants for it’s suppliers, further moves into the US it would seem. Meanwhile all is well here and are happy to report that I did better then Lieberman Brothers, Blue Chip and Bernie Madoff combined last year and are 40% ahead on production for this time of the year compared to last year. So my bank manager is no where to be seen.

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  38. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    who the fuck are lieberman brothers..?

    and..then again..there are all those ticking health-time-bombs ..

    http://whoar.co.nz/2009/milk-may-endanger-your-health-and-the-dairy-industry-knows-it/

    eh..?

    and..

    http://whoar.co.nz/2009/report-reveals-fear-of-toxins-in-milkwould-you-like-some-liver-cancer-with-that-milk/

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  39. Blue Coast (165 comments) says:

    I have no problem with soccer but to imagine Philu on the side line every Saturday when there are 5 working days to be out of bed at the same time to do something like say working !!

    Sorry that is off topic but to hard to resist.

    Hard as it may be for some to accept but JK has the high ground and until Liarbour change their colours then he will stay well in front.
    Only wish he would chat to Sir R D

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  40. grumpyoldhori (2,362 comments) says:

    See told you lot that Key was a bloody good Labour PM.

    getstaffed, if you are saying that no farmers are arrogant arse holes who believe they are owed because they are landed gentry you are wrong.
    Douglas did the right thing in dropping SMPs, but he and his cohorts were as bad as some bloody farmers with their , there is no alternative but to cause a lot of misery.

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  41. Johnboy (16,516 comments) says:

    Much as it galls me to agree with anything you say grumpy I have to admit the Crafars rank right up there in the arsehole awards. Spent a bit of time round the Mohaka and it does not deserve pricks like them.

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  42. Adolf Fiinkensein (2,903 comments) says:

    Most farmers I know, and I deal with many, are simply getting on with running profitable businesses and adjusting to changed circumstances. It’s not rocket science, you know.

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  43. Whafe (650 comments) says:

    Agree Adolf F, we farmers just have to get stuck in and get amongst it…..

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  44. getstaffed (9,186 comments) says:

    grumpy – no I wasn’t saying that

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  45. big bruv (13,884 comments) says:

    “[DPF: How many do you know? I know probably close to 1,000 members]”

    You know 1000 cheerleaders?…wow, the party is not in great shape then is it.

    I am constantly amazed at how people will set aside their principals in the pursuit of power, just as long as their team wins and keeps the other “nasty people” out of office is all that matters.

    DPF I suspect the chap you sat next to on Wednesday night at the backbenchers might have been directing his comment at the cheer leaders in both main political parties, if you really want to know how much Key is disappointing a lot of traditional National supporters then come and visit the provinces, hell, I might even be able to find you a place that serves a flat white on a Sunday.

    [DPF: I'm constantly amazed how someone can think the President of the United States is actually a secret backer of Osama bin Laden]

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  46. coventry (321 comments) says:

    “Is it just me or was it in really bad taste that of all people, a firefighters union chose September 11 to protest for something as insignificant as a few extra bucks in the grand scheme of things?”

    I actually had dinner with one of the front line fire fighters last night that was at the protest. In his words ‘the NZ Fire Service Sep 11 call for the opening of Mt Roskill, hell or high water was a insult to the honor of the ones that fell 8 years ago’. It was a very cynical move by the fire service to rush to get things done for that date.

    There is also a strong distate within the frontline guys about the report currently being done on behalf of the government. The 2 guys writing the report, were the same 2 that were responsible for the CST fiasco (refer D1 contract issue) of years ago. If it didn’t work before, why have the same 2 re-hash thier previous effort ? Surely getting an independant analysis would be better for all concerned.

    Edit: And yes, the front line guys were very impressed to see Key not shirk from the challenge and take up the megaphone. His words (if accurate) indicate that the issue with the funding is between the commision and the frontline, not between the commission and the govt. as the comission claim.

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  47. Shunda barunda (2,983 comments) says:

    “Again, one could imagine it easy to have someone advising the PM that whatever you do don’t pick up a megaphone and talk to the protesters. The arguments would be that it is undignified, it puts you on their level, it might look bad on the news etc etc. But he doesn’t worry about that very much.”

    Except when it comes to listening to what people want regarding how we can raise our kids.
    If Mr Key had have been silent on this issue before the election then one could at least understand his position, but he was strongly opposed to the attitude of the left and even warned Helen Clark of the consequences of not listening.
    Now he has acted completely against supposedly his own convictions in order to keep the liberal elite happy.
    If you watch the videos that democracy mum posted a while ago, I am afraid Mr Key looks like a bare faced bloody liar.
    I will need more convincing than him picking up a megaphone every now and then.

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  48. tvb (4,417 comments) says:

    It is his smiling self confidence that is so engaging and his ability to listen. People trust him. He stands beyond the National Party and appeals to lots of people who would not vote National. He is my ideal Prime Minister and probably the best we have had since Holyoake. Time will tell whether he will go beyond Holyoake.

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  49. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    Shunda barunda [September 13th, 2009 at 8:37 am],

    Except when it comes to listening to what people want regarding how we can raise our kids.
    If Mr Key had have been silent on this issue before the election then one could at least understand his position, but he was strongly opposed to the attitude of the left and even warned Helen Clark of the consequences of not listening.
    Now he has acted completely against supposedly his own convictions in order to keep the liberal elite happy.
    If you watch the videos that democracy mum posted a while ago, I am afraid Mr Key looks like a bare faced bloody liar.
    I will need more convincing than him picking up a megaphone every now and then.

    I’m with you Shunda.
    If Key did such an obvious 180 on such a major issue, and basically broke a pre-election promise, then I have little confidence that he won’t do something similar again when it is politically expedient.

    The worst kind of traitor is the one that ‘smiles’ as he stabs you in the back.
    And I think that’s how many NZers feel over the whole turn around regarding the Bradford Bill.

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  50. ross (1,437 comments) says:

    > “All we’re saying to you guys is we’re living in a backdrop where a hell of a lot of people are losing their job, where the Government is running big deficits and where we’ve all got to be reasonable.”

    Ah yes, reasonable. Is it reasonable for a Minister to rort taxpayers by claiming a housing allowance on his million dollar home? Is is reasonable for the same Minister to receive taxpayer handouts for electricity and cleaning? Key needs to stop talking about what’s reasonable and start acting. Something tells me he is all talk.

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