Herald on Govt’s first year

October 31st, 2009 at 9:12 am by David Farrar

This weekend it is the Herald’s turn to do a big feature on the Government’s first year in office. Multiple article to quote.

John Armstrong starts with what I think is the most important aspect:

The first Herald-DigiPoll survey since last year’s election shows close to 80 per cent of respondents rated the Government’s performance in dealing with the effect of the global on New Zealand as good, very good or excellent.

Barely 20 per cent rated the Government’s response to the recession as not good or poor.

And this is the major issue voters have focused on. Not use of urgency, not the Super City, not RWC broadcasting, not any of the numerous beltway issues. Not to say handling of those issues is not worthy of focus, but they are not critical to the average voter.

In another article, Armstrong reviews Key himself:

Key’s sheer ordinariness has fooled opponents into making first impression assumptions that there is little substance behind the confident, smiley face he presents to the world.

Key would not claim to be an intellectual. But he is very bright. Those who have worked closely with him speak of a capacity to absorb mountains of information and a laser-like capacity to focus on what needs to be done.

I would almost call Key a data sponge. He loves soaking up information from numerous sources, and reflecting on it. He is constantly thinking, and analysing.

He is anything but ordinary. The chief executive of New Zealand Incorporated is nothing short of a political phenomenon.

As one Beehive operative of long experience puts it, Key is rewriting the rules of New Zealand politics. That is a sweeping statement. But it goes some way to explaining why public support for – confirmed in today’s Herald-DigiPoll survey – has climbed to unprecedented highs for a ruling party in its first year of government and, just as crucially, continues to remain at that level.

The challenge for the Government is to build its own brand to complement Key’s strong brand.

Key cites his Government’s fulfillment of manifesto commitments and steering the country through and (he hopes) out of economic recession as crucial in consolidating support for his party. Cabinet ministers readily acknowledge, however, that National’s post-election dream run is overwhelmingly down to Key’s strong rapport with voters – especially females who shunned National in the past.

It is rare for a centre-right party to do well with female voters.

Labour Party insiders grudgingly agree, but with a subtle twist in the language: National’s popularity rests on Key’s popularity. When the latter starts to fade, the former will quickly evaporate.

As I said above, I agree with them that the popularity is largely Key. But that may change over time, as other Ministers become better known. Also the other Ministers have generally been doing quite well in their portfolios – what is lacking is more a coherent all of Government brand.

Or so Labour prays. Labour, however, has made a bad habit of underestimating Key.

And they still are.

One of the principal ways he is seen to be rewriting the rules is by applying a “will it work” test to policy proposals rather than first asking whether they sit comfortably with National Party ideology. Key’s willingness to search for ideas outside conventional boundaries is in tune with an electorate less hung-up about ideology than in the 1980s and 1990s.

Key has centre-right values and instincts, but he sees them as a guide not a straitjacket.

This may irk some colleagues who see the vast gap between National and Labour in the polls as a rare chance for National to adopt a more radical and right-leaning prescription. …

Key seems to have no difficulty with either proposition. However, he is extremely wary of breaching National’s 2008 manifesto. He believes it is vital that voters feel confident they can trust National in government.

I’m one of those who want to see the Government be more bold, and indeed use that vast poll gap while we have it. But it isn’t about being more “right”, it is about fighting battles that are important to our future such as tax reform, the union stranglehold in education, state sector reform etc. But I agree any reform has to be consistent with the election manifesto. But there are plenty of areas where initiatives were not ruled in or out.

Dunne also noted that “references to what happened in the 1990s, let alone what side one was on during the Springbok Tour or, heaven forbid, the Vietnam War are utterly irrelevant to the values of this new generation, as Helen Clark found out dramatically last year, and Phil Goff is continuing to find out”.

The battles of yesterday.

Though Goff is an effective communicator, Key operates on another level. Unlike some politicians, he never talks down to people. He instead likes to disarm his audiences – no matter how big or small – by kicking off proceedings with a witty anecdote. More often than not, the joke is at his own expense. And deliberately so. The self-deprecation helps to break the ice.

A typical example was a recent meeting with youngsters at a riding school. Praising their ambition to represent New Zealand in show-jumping at the 2016 Olympics. Key turned to their proud parents, telling them “and you’ll be able to watch it all on Maori television”.

Heh. More seriously I recommend anyone who has not seen Key do a Q&A, should attend one of his meetings. He really engages with the audience, and as John A says, never talking down.

Yet, a year on from the election, it is still difficult to discern the direction in which the Government is going. Presumably it knows, because it is a very busy Government. It would be useful if it told the rest of us.

If Key has a major flaw, it is in not drawing the big picture often enough.

I agree. I don’t think it has mattered much this year, for it has been a crisis year – fighting the recession. But as that fades as an issue, people are going to want to hear more about closing (or at least slowing) the gao with Australia.

Key’s power is at its zenith. But how does he intend to use it? What legacy does he want to leave? The next 12 months will be true measure of his prime ministership, judged on what is done to get his promised “step change”in New Zealand’s economic growth.

I think the 2010 budget is very important, even more so that the 2011 budget.

Claire Trevett reports 78% of NZers back the series of cycleways.

Patrick Gower talks to Rodney Hide about working with .

also reviews Bill English.

Claire Trevett talks to :

Do you still have that level of trust in National?

Yes. What I’ve enjoyed the most is our ability to be upfront with one another and be straightforward on issues. I have never found that they’ve said one thing to me in a meeting and done another.

I recall what John Tamihere said about how Cullen used to treat coalition partners!

Have there been difficult choices?

When you can see value in what is being proposed but there’s always downsides to it. We’ve had to think really carefully about ACC, the Emissions Trading Scheme, and adult education courses.

For example with the ETS, it’s been difficult to try to balance the interests of iwi – whose major focus is forestry, fishing and farming – when on the other hand we’ve got really poor communities who are going to have to pay and they’re not the ones causing the problems.

There are very few policies that don’t involve balancing the trade-offs.

Jon Johannsson talks leadership:

I believe we are watching an unusual prime ministership take shape. Key’s skillset is vastly different from what we’ve seen before. We’d possibly have to go all the way back to the entrepreneurial Julius Vogel in the 1870s to find an apt comparison. Vogel put in vital and much-needed infrastructure to connect New Zealanders with each other and then with the rest of the world. Vogel’s legacy is a hugely significant one in our politics. If Key could affect a 21st century equivalent – meaning nothing short of major structural transformation to better position New Zealand during its transition to an information-age economy – his future legacy would be assured.

And Key has pushed hard on infrastructure. But the structural transformation is not there – however stuff like the fibre to the home initiative may be part of that.

Key has also grasped that our politics is going through a non-ideological phase, which explains why much of the criticism of his Government’s performance has come from ideologues on either side of the spectrum. His acceptance of much of Labour’s policy inheritance reinforces this judgment. Keeping its promises, which National has largely done, thereby establishing long-term trust with the electorate, has given Key the prerequisite platform needed for greater freedom of action in the future.

Absolutely. You have to earn trust, to then have greater freedom of action.

But to return to where I began, Key’s larger context; his political vision has been quite parsimonious in my view. There is no overarching narrative that tells us where Key intends taking us or what policy mix will best maximise our future progress and choices.

Transforming education (surely the best incubator for our future economic prosperity), leading our democracy (think: the electoral referendum, the Treaty, republicanism), and how to best protect water, our most valuable strategic resource, are being managed, not led, in an entirely ad-hoc fashion.

I think this is fair criticism.

Finally John Roughan:

The most impressive member of the Cabinet is a complete newcomer, Steven Joyce.

He is doing the infrastructure projects, notably the duplicate broadband network, as well as those in his primary portfolio, transport.

He’s done the little things, like the car cellphone ban on which the previous government dithered for years, and the big things like the Waterview connection, which I thought was wrong but he put me right.

I remarked to the Dominion Post for their review that I thought John Key’s best decision was probably appointing Steven Joyce to such critical portfolios. The fibre rollout was Key’s signature initiative, and speeding up infrastructure investment also a iconic issue for Key. And Steven indeed is no ditherer.

Of course I still think he is wrong on the cellphone ban!

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39 Responses to “Herald on Govt’s first year”

  1. JeffW (320 comments) says:

    Just one thing in your summing up and added comments, David, National is in fact very much a centre-left party. Key’s instincts may be centre-right, but very little has been done which could be described as anywhere near the right of centre. The nanny state is still expanding, just not at the same rate.

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  2. Minnie (96 comments) says:

    If the reaction to the “Plain English” ads are any indication, we won’t have to wait long before Cunliffe and Labour start complaining that the wall-to-wall coverage for National isn’t fair…and Labour should have equal status…and it only happened ‘cos there’s a conspiracy…and Bill English swore at the reporters…grizzle…whinge.

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  3. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    a major reason why key is still popular..

    ..is because the mainstream media are once again proving to be an abject failure in their reporting/warning of the realities that we face..

    it is just the same as the run-up to the election..

    where..in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary..

    the mainstream media..to a man/woman..just parrotted the line of bullshit run by all the main parties..

    that ‘the recession will be over after xmas’…

    remember that..?

    how everyone was in lock-step..

    and here..now..one year later..we have them doing the same thing all over again..

    this time peddling the ‘reassure-the-punters-myth’..

    that once again..’the recession is over’..

    reality check:..it is just beginning..this ‘great recession’..

    and i know their are conscious efforts to ignore the many warnings/analysis i post on whoar..

    but f.f.s..!

    has anyone in the media got a fucken functioning brain..?

    do they fucken read/investigate anymore than parroting press-releases..?

    a particularly telling/potent moment in the validectory speech from bradford..

    was where she looked over at national..and openly laughed at any possible beliefs in ‘green shoots’ in the economy..

    she was adamant a major crash is coming/in process..

    and really..all this happy-clappy/recession-is-over bullshit..

    is just that..

    and come twelve months from now..

    i’ll bet ‘a pound to a pinch of rightwing bullshit’..

    that the tenor/tone of the ’round-ups’..then..

    will be the direct opposite of this ‘sunny-side-up’ coin..

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  4. mike tan (433 comments) says:

    DPF, do you agree that the “average” voter is more persuaded by personality and appearance rather than substance? (eg. “JK looks like a stand up guy, lets vote for him”)

    Quite simply, the average voter has little concern or knowledge of the diverse range of problems that require fixing, and the political climate, therefore i consider it factually incorrect to use the opinion of this “average voter” as a credibility oriented litmus test (assuming the article was taking this angle).

    Sadly, it is typical for the average voters concern to extend little beyond how the new tax scheme will affect them

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  5. Inventory2 (10,085 comments) says:

    Phil – is today’s prediction as accurate as your prediction that the Auditor-General was going to throw the book at Bill English? Sorry buddy, Nostredamus you ain’t ;-)

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  6. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    where did i ‘predict’ that..?

    are you just ‘making things up’..?..again..?..still..?

    did your parents used to get pissed off at you for doing that..?

    and..

    do you think you will ever grow out of it..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  7. max (31 comments) says:

    Key and National are up at the moment. But it won;t be forever. Remember how popular Labour was. Things can change quick, very quick and people are fickle. So you of the right, bask in the glory while you can, because it will not last.

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  8. backster (2,067 comments) says:

    “We’d possibly have to go all the way back to the entrepreneurial Julius Vogel in the 1870s to find an apt comparison. Vogel put in vital and much-needed infrastructure to connect New Zealanders with each other and then with the rest of the world. Vogel’s legacy is a hugely significant one in our politics.”

    Yes, but can John KEY bake as good a loaf of bread.?

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  9. thedavincimode (6,514 comments) says:

    Nostradimmus he is I2

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  10. Inventory2 (10,085 comments) says:

    Indeed davincimode – and as always, when cornered Phil lashes out – what have my (deceased) parents got to do with anything FFS?

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  11. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    you lie/make things up to suit yr arguments..

    i’m sure you didn’t start doing that just yesterday..eh..?

    c’mon..!..you said i said/predicted something..

    where is your fucken proof..?

    you lying prick..!

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  12. getstaffed (9,189 comments) says:

    IV2 – Might be this comment you’re thinking of:

    speaking of ‘corruption’..
    d’yareckon the auditor-general is having fun raking thru englishs ‘trust details/changes/timelines..?
    mmm..?

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  13. Inventory2 (10,085 comments) says:

    Phillip Ure said “you lie/make things up to suit yr arguments..

    i’m sure you didn’t start doing that just yesterday..eh..?

    c’mon..!..you said i said/predicted something..

    where is your fucken proof..?

    you lying prick..!”

    Methinks Phillip Ure has an anger problem.

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  14. Fisiani (942 comments) says:

    People tend to think that the future will be like the past. We often make assumptions based on what we have known.
    However who in 1960 could conceive of men on the moon.
    Who in 1980 could conceive of the end of Soviet Communism, the eastern Bloc and the end of apartheid.
    Who in 2009 could conceive of the end of Labour as ever being a governing party in New Zealand.

    The so called extended honeymoon and the rapprochment with the Maori Party and the wealth of Cabinet talent and National Backbenchers are harbingers that point to a possible new alignment of NZ Politics. In 1900 there was no Labour Party. In 2100 there will I suspect again be no Labour Party.
    I will be around then to see this become reality but seriously doubt there will be another Labour Government in my lifetime. I expect to live for another 40 years

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  15. thedavincimode (6,514 comments) says:

    Nothing of course I2.

    But then what have the little magpie’s rants got to do with anything either.

    I sense a furious cloud of feathers whirling about at Maison Magpie. Boney little claws scratching and stabbing the keyboard in his fury as he switches modes to nostradementas. There goes the weekend.

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  16. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “..Methinks Phillip Ure has an anger problem…”

    i do get pissed off when you rightwing pricks just make shit up..

    as you do all the fucken time..

    c’mon..!..where did i say that..?

    you lying bastard..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  17. Inventory2 (10,085 comments) says:

    You asked for it Phil

    24/10/09 – General Debate thread “english has already paid some back..

    and he..and we ..are waiting on that auditor-generals’ report..eh..?”

    25/9/09 – Auditor-General investigation thread – “somehow..peterwn..i think this could prove to be a little more than an ‘irritating little harassment’..

    eh..?”

    And then on 26/9/09 – Armstrong on English thread “and..hey presto..!..this change in trust status..

    means yet another little spiggot on the bottom of the money-trough ..opens for english…

    ..and large amounts of extra ‘entitlements’ flowed his way..

    with the burning question being..

    was that change made … just for the purposes of opening that extra spiggot..

    ..on the bottom of the money-trough..

    (i am trademarking this as ‘the spiggot-theory’..)

    ‘cos..as they say..’that wouldn’t be a good look’..”

    That last one is the killer IMHO – when you say “was that change made … just for the purposes of opening that extra spiggot….on the bottom of the money-trough..”, you are clearly speculating that the A-G is going to find English in breach. She didn’t, therefore your predictions are shite.

    Don’t worry about apologising. I know it wouldn’t be sincere, so it wouldn’t mean anything. But in the future, please keep my late parents out of the debate.

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  18. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    fan-of-crap-conspiracy-novel..

    back to repeating/quoting yourself..eh..?

    one thought/idea a week..?..is it..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  19. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “..you are clearly speculating thast the A-G is going to find English in breach. She didn’t, therefore your predictions are shite..”

    she did..

    didn’t you read what she said about the trust ‘arrangements’/declarations on no pecuniary interest..?

    i suggest you do..

    and..

    none of your quotes of mine say anything like what you claim i said..

    so..once again..

    proof that you are a lying bastard..

    who just makes shit up..

    where is the fucken quote..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  20. starboard (2,463 comments) says:

    The first Herald-DigiPoll survey since last year’s election shows close to 80 per cent of respondents rated the Government’s performance in dealing with the effect of the global recession on New Zealand as good, very good or excellent.

    last heard coming outa phil goofs office in the beehive

    ” nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo”……

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  21. starboard (2,463 comments) says:

    …go and have a joint whore..calm yaself down man…

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  22. thedavincimode (6,514 comments) says:

    I2, its quite possible he just forgot all about it. Might be a bit delirious – possibly a new strain of bird flu.

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  23. ropata (117 comments) says:

    Reality is too challenging for poor old phlu. He’s really cranking out the paranoia today.
    And that kids, is why you should stay off drugs.

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  24. andretti (127 comments) says:

    Meanwhile over at the Substandard (should be renamed the site) all is not well.As 60% of kiwis rate the National govt i would imagine over at the Substandard they are all running around like dads army saying DONT PANIC,DONT PANIC.

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  25. Inventory2 (10,085 comments) says:

    Indeed Ropata – meanwhile over at the General Debate thread there is the surreal sight of Phillip Ure quoting scripture to defend his vegan status, whilst describing the Bible as a “fairytale book”. Perhaps all those studies on the effects of long-term cannabis use were right after all …eh?

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  26. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “So you of the right”

    Hey Maxie, get some perspective. “The right” don’t think National are much different to Labour, and view them as just another bunch of regulating self serving trough feeding socialists /Progressives.

    The main difference is Labour had a plan, an objective, and were working towards that objective. Key and his hangers on don’t have a clue.

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  27. malcolm (2,000 comments) says:

    John Keyless and National are popular because too many in New Zealand prefer not to have their sinking boat rocked.

    ..and steering the country through and (he hopes) out of economic recession as crucial in consolidating support for his party.

    What? Borrowing a billion a month because they’re too spineless and unprincipled to reduce government spending and euthanise even one of Helen’s legacy of useless quangos, commissions and government bulge. They’d rather mortgage NZ’s future than countenance a drop in the polls.

    Pull your finger out, Johnboy. Stop thinking about your ratings and start thinking about New Zealand. Do you want to remembered as the popular man who did nothing to stop the slide, or the man who turned the ship around?

    Let’s have a few targets and regular updates on progress: Govt spending as % of GDP, Welfare spending as % of GDP, etc.

    Oh, and please tell Bill English to shut up about productivity and catching up with Australia until one of you actually does something substantive to achieve that aim. Talk is cheap.

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  28. getstaffed (9,189 comments) says:

    malcolm – absolutely agree with you re spinelessness

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  29. malcolm (2,000 comments) says:

    A bit of a rant, sorry. The lovefest on John Keyless is just driving me crazy. Does NZ have such low expectations? Don’t answer that.

    I think I’m more exasperated with New Zealanders than John Keyless. Politicians your deserve, and all that.

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  30. Manolo (13,302 comments) says:

    “Methinks Phillip Ure has an anger problem.”

    Yes, I agree. But, how couldn’t he avoid it with the miserable existence he lives?

    Fulminating / ranting / excoriating others for eating meat, for being achievers, for not being idlers like him, for not worshipping Gaia, in other words for living normal lives, seems to be his daily obssession.

    I despise bludgers like him.

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  31. reid (15,904 comments) says:

    malcolm and getstaffed.

    Yes, Key et al need to do more, a lot lot lot more, that’s true.

    But we’re dealing with an electorate who are almost totally ignorant of economic mechanisms and what it’s like to live in a world where forces beyond your control directly influence your destiny.

    Australia is where it is because it focuses on the US and on SE Asia and it has direct influences from both those nations. UK has Europe and an institutional memory of being a world power with all that entails.

    We have neither. Our biggest influence for most people is the stock quotes flashed up at 6:15 every night and that’s about it. Ask your average punter who’s not self-employed what this nation’s economic drivers and greatest opportunities and threats are and they don’t have a fucking clue.

    That’s a real shame and although these reef-fish also exist in great numbers in other countries, at least in those countries there’s a realism bought about by proximity and importantly, enough people in the population with a 3-digit IQ who can drag the rest of them into a realistic worldly perspective.

    Unfortunately we don’t have any of those factors here and furthermore, we’ve just had nine years of clever and sinister lefty propaganda that has markedly skewed the field, leftward.

    This is the reality and correcting this oil tanker’s trajectory is not a simple or quick matter. In this country we have a very high relative proportion of leftists inhabiting the deepest levels of the education, media and political bureaucracy. They squeal like stuck pigs the instant any rational business-friendly policy settings are promulgated. They’re planting the seeds in the reef-fish. Given all of this, this country is pretty screwed and it’s amazing that despite this, the polls continue to show such strong support for the Nats.

    Consequently they have to tread softly because you watch what happens to their support the instant they don’t. On balance however, it’s better to have these guys in power than the alternative, is it not?

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  32. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “On balance however, it’s better to have these guys in power than the alternative, is it not?”

    No its not. Principle not party.

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  33. reid (15,904 comments) says:

    Yeah but there’s only two alternatives, RB. Which one do you want?

    Ideals don’t apply.

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  34. jabba (280 comments) says:

    PHILU .. take some happy pills .. the nats, under Key, are doing a great job under trying circumstances .. you must know that so i am suggesting you are doing the devils advocate thing for a laugh.. if that’s not the case then BONG BONG BONG

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  35. malcolm (2,000 comments) says:

    Good points Reid.

    I think New Zealanders have a greater capacity for change and new ideas than the politicians gives them credit for. We’ve been there before. I just wish John Keyless would use some of his popularity to make a case for radical change in NZ. There’s no honour in being a popular PM who does nothing much, particularly when there’s so much to do. Steady-as-she-goes is not an option. We’ve nearly fallen out the bottom of the OECD.

    I was at the Backbencher the other night for Backbenchers. Roger Douglas was there at the ACT table (plus some very pretty ACT groupies). The rest of the place was full of Sue Bradford supporters. Depressing to see so many economically illiterate people, surrounding one of the few recent politicians with any good ideas.

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  36. bchapman (649 comments) says:

    Lets face it, the electorate loves Kiwisaver, WFF, Kiwibank, ACC and NZ super, only have to read the polls and the comments in the Herald to see that.

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  37. Manolo (13,302 comments) says:

    “I just wish John Keyless would use some of his popularity to make a case for radical change in NZ. ”

    Keep dreaming, mate. Neville Key is as ordinary as the greasiest fish and chips you can buy.
    He’ll play to the masses until the last moment. He and his spineless party will never rock the boat and undertake the radical reforms our country needs.

    Each country get the government it desrvers.

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  38. Mr A (17 comments) says:

    You are right bchapman, the electorate does love Kiwisaver (Labour introduced), WFF (Labour introduced), Kiwibank (Anderton), ACC (Labour), and NZ Super. The polls show that Key is taking the credit for the regulation and services inherited by Labour that have prevented this recession from being as bad as in the US and UK.

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  39. Tassman (238 comments) says:

    John Key has an opportunistic ambition! Not only he put his personal stamp on the Anti Smacking bill, he has also imposed his judgement on Education. Now, he has offered McCaw a knighthood should the All Blacks win the World Cup.

    The Anti Smacking bill was passed on motivation by party whips, like the Anti Smacking law, the Education imposition was passed in the face of majority opposition from parents. And now a bargain on dishing out a knighthood surely proves the man is a one man democratic nation.

    He is basically running the country by himself, his way…

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