Small on Key

Vernon Small writes:

It is hard to know whether to laugh, cry – or maybe cross your legs – when the prime minister is prepared to reveal off the cuff at a press conference that he has had a vasectomy.

Like his “joke” about being on the menu at a Tuhoe dinner, it has gone around the world, but this time he hit the right note.

It is testament to his extraordinary confidence and openness – unless you are so cynical as to think it was planned – that he is prepared to take such risks in the interest of a self-described “self- deprecating” joke.

His skill and wit may not be as sharp as David Lange’s, but he has the same ability to beguile his listeners. Unlike Lange, he rarely if ever turns his wit on others in a cruel way.

Which is one of the reasons he is very popular. I’ve never detected in Key the contempt and hatred for his opponents, that often exists amongst Prime Ministers.

It must be the cruellest cut of all for Labour that, at a time when the Government is on the back foot over so many issues – from the impact of the Budget on middle-income families to mining on conservation land to the seemingly transparent “blind trust” Mr Key’s lawyers have constructed for him – he can still ooze such easy ordinariness.

His approach – apparently instinctive – is not, as many would have it, simply a willingness to take calculated risks. It has now become an integral part of “brand Key”: ability mixed with the everyday; a man who can run the country and – that most valuable of attributes for many Kiwis – not be up himself.

I recall a few months after the election a couple of gallery journos saying how Key hasn’t changed at all since becoming Prime Minister. They were expecting him to do so, but he hadn’t.

If the normal rules of politics apply, Mr Key’s greatest asset will in time, as voters tire, become his greatest weakness. What is charming will become glib, what is light-hearted will become clownish and a light touch will become lightweight.

There is a risk there, but Key can also do serious. At business meetings especially I’ve seen him talk about business and economic issues with a level of detail I doubt any other PM could ever meet.

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