Colin James writes:
How long will John Key stick around? Even before Kevin Rudd was suddenly rolled last month, this question was doing the rounds in the Wellington political hothouse.
The speculation goes like this: Key has not come to the top job with a burning ambition to change the world in a particular way, as distinct from a desire to do some good; he is not a career politician despite a teenage desire to be Prime Minister; he is not a loser and won’t want to go out on a loss; he has the sort of personality that could enjoy time at the top and then move on.
I think this is fundamentally correct. I don’t think John Key wants to try and break Seddon’s record as longest serving Prime Minister. He is not a Helen Clark who still seethes at being removed from office after *only* three terms.
Add into the mix the gulf between Key’s written speech notes and what he actually tells audiences. Audiences, particularly of businesspeople, often leave enthused by Key’s energy and optimism and with a much more uplifting sense of his purpose than they would get from the formal speech.
Key is definitely at his best when talking to (not at) an audience. He shares very candid assessments on issues such as Afghanistan in a way which makes the audience feel he is talking to them as equals, not lecturing them.
National has a leader who can win power, win hearts and minds and keep Labour out. And one likely to edge, term by term, in a business-friendly direction, as John Howard did in Australia.
The direction is more important to me than the speed.
This term Key has a super-majority, with ACT to support some measures and the Maori party to support others and deliver some Maori voters.
If in the next term National needs both parties for a majority (likely if, say, Labour gets 38 per cent and the Greens 6 per cent), managing their antithetical positions to pass contentious legislation will be very challenging — or paralysing.
Even if there is a super-majority again (a real possibility), can Key keep both in the tent?
He has given the Maori party some big mana wins and whanau ora. There is not much more mana he can deliver without upsetting conservative National members and voters.
This is an issue I’ve been reflecting on in recent months. The Maori Party have done pretty damn well under this Government. I don’t expect any other major policy “gains” before the election. But what few have thought about, is what will they want in a second term? It is unlikely to just be an implementation of existing policies. And as Colin James says, what they want may be just too much for National supporters. The second term will be far more challenging.
And all the while, the economy will not be flying high and might even have another bad turn, given the debt-driven turmoil and huge uncertainties in the global economy. The 2014 election might look grim. Will Key want to risk a loss?
I can’t see Key retiring in just his second term. I absolutely can see a scenario where he retires say 18 months into a third term. Key has said he doesn’t want to leave the job of PM angry considering that it is a huge privilege to be one of around 40 NZers who have held the job.
So I think Colin’s column is quite perceptive, but that he is a term too early.Tags: Colin James