On the night when John Key pushed his way through a horde of backslapping supporters celebrating his election victory, no one had an inkling that a series of disasters lay in wait.
Ahead lurked a financial crisis, a $1.7 billion corporate bailout, a $4 billion natural disaster, the first combat casualty in a decade, and, finally, Pike River, a tragedy that dwarfed even Cave Creek in terms of loss of life.
As the good ship New Zealand steams from one crisis to the next, Key has become noticeably grey at the temples, and his staff have become increasingly protective of his private family time – a few hours on a Sunday, and the occasional overseas holiday.
Staggeringly, the optimism that charmed voters in 2008 and swept Key to power seems to have survived the battering of two years in office despite little respite from a grim economy and a string of bad news.
Maybe that is why Key and his government are more popular now than on election night. Leaders are judged on how they handle a crisis and Key’s instincts have remained unerringly in touch with what the man or woman on the street expect of him in bad times.
A crisis only looks easy to respond to with hindsight. They often trip leaders up. The Bolger Govt’s response to Cave Creek was poor, and Bush 43 with Hurricane Katrina is an example of how a lack of apparent concern can be damaging. And Obama’s response to the financial crisis led to the birth of the tea party, as a backlash against his fiscal stimulus.
The most important thing is voters knowing that you can step up, says Key.
“People want to know if the government’s in touch with the issues that are real, or are they just people who fight in the debating chamber on inane subjects and call each other names?”