A lengthy and fascinating interview with John Key by Guyon Espiner in the Listener. Definitely go read the whole thing. Some extracts:
He changed the law for Warner Bros to keep making the Hobbit movies in New Zealand and says it “created 3000 jobs”. Now he’s at it again. “This will really wind people up,” he says leaning forward, his shirtsleeves ending in bulbous cufflinks that almost conceal an expensive watch. “They now want me to go to LA and see Fox and Disney and a whole lot of other major studios,” he says with the enthusiasm of a boy who’s been invited to, well, Disneyland. “The word in Hollywood is that we are really supportive of the film industry to the point where the Prime Minister of the country would actually engage himself in negotiations to make sure those movies are made.”
Your reaction to the Prime Minister going to Hollywood to woo the movie moguls is probably a good measure of your view of him. Good on him for getting off his chuff and trying to help New Zealand make some money. Or, “Johnnie goes to Hollywood” to pimp the film industry while (create your own deprivation index here) continues unabated at home. Key knows his opponents will hate him for it. “But I would say it’s a really positive thing to do. You can make a difference. And it’s like the convention centre. People want to chase their tails in conspiracies. There is no conspiracy. The conspiracy is we haven’t had a convention centre for decades. We will get 160,000 visitor-nights. They will spend roughly twice as much as everybody else. The Government has got no money to pour into it.”
Key is right that opinion on this will be highly polarised. Personally I’m glad Key puts the interests of getting NZers into jobs ahead of placating an Australian union that was sabotaging our entire film industry.
His stories often have a touch of the Boy’s Own adventure about them. Key loved hanging out with the SAS in Afghanistan. He enjoys the Diplomatic Protection Service security detail. It’s not hard to see he grew up without a dad.
An interesting insight.
He’s just been to a ceremony for bootcamp graduates. A tough Maori kid repeatedly thanked him for the opportunity to do the course. As the boy left, his school principal whispered into Key’s ear that this was the son of the local Mongrel Mob boss. Key is fascinated by New Zealand’s dark underbelly and incurably optimistic about fixing it, even with no money …
Unfortunately, the statistics have remained unmoved by the rhetoric and there are still more than 200,000 kids living in poverty. “We’ve done a lot more than probably we have been given credit for,” he claims, listing the insulation of nearly 200,000 homes and the lifting of early childhood education participation rates. And, of course, his beloved boot camps. He says 60% of participants go on to get jobs and he is now going to use his prime ministerial powers of persuasion to shame companies into employing everyone who finishes the course.
“I am going to put the hard word on them that I think it is the right corporate responsibility to do that. There are enough big companies around New Zealand. We are talking about 1500, maybe 2000, kids a year, for them to collectively stand up and say, ‘I’ll take one and I’ll take two.’”
Cool. And on optimism:
The Government may still have significant reserves of political capital but Key accepts it will never have any real money to spend. “In terms of money I don’t think that position is going to change dramatically, because whatever you think [of the situation] in Europe, the really good case scenario is that they muddle through and any scenario other than that is a lot worse.” And it’s official: Bill English was right and Key was wrong. “When Bill first used to say that this will go on for 10 years, I thought he was wrong. Now I think he is right,” Key says. Even though he knew it was the biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression, he thought “the fluidity of the modern economy” would allow those issues to be resolved. “But what is different is the destruction of capital and huge structural change that has to happen, so this is about real, fundamental, core change.”
If Key accepts he was wrong, he believes he was wrong for the right reasons. “That optimism is not only well-placed, it is important to the national psyche,” he says. “Finance Ministers are paid to say no and Prime Ministers are paid to say yes. That’s the way it works. Who the hell wants a Prime Minister who is down in the mouth? “If you don’t think the country you are leading is a great country, why are you leading it?”
And he comments on the smile and wave nickname:
Key has never been lacking in confidence and still believes his opponents underestimate him. “I always remember when people used to go on about ‘smile and wave’ and all this sort of stuff – what a load of nonsense. I mean the New Zealand public never believed it and it just used to make me laugh. “The more they did it the more I was happy they did it, because it just deluded the Labour Party that somehow I didn’t have a view of where I wanted to take the country,” he says. “It has always been about lifting economic performance.”
I think Labour stole it off Cactus Kate. On the under-estimation Chris Trotter adds:
The reason members of the Labour Party underestimated John Key from the beginning is all to do with intellectual snobbery, says left-wing political commentator Chris Trotter. “No matter how much people crow when they add Labour and the Greens’ latest polling together, Key’s is an extraordinary result to be looking at three-and-a-half years into his time in office and in the midst of economic circumstances that could hardly be described as benign. “For a political leader to be in charge at a time such as this, and for people to say, ‘Oh, look, he’s only got 45.8% of the vote’, really is an extraordinary testimony to his political skills.”
Trotter contends that the left-wing of New Zealand politics always “grossly underestimated” Key’s skills – to its cost. “There is a tremendous amount of intellectual snobbery in the Labour Party particularly, if not across the left in general, which regards someone who’s done very well in business as a lesser being than someone, perhaps, who’s won the Booker Prize. There’s just this attitude that ‘he can’t be that good if he hasn’t lectured at a university or if he isn’t called Dr’. And this approach is very, very self-defeating on the part of the left, because you just have to be guided by the facts.”
The facts, says Trotter “are that this guy took over the National Party, its numbers recovered almost immediately and they soared to unprecedented levels in the polls”. What’s more, that polling occurred under a proportional representation system “when it is extraordinary to see any single party win 44-45% of the vote. “So, unless you’re putting National’s success down to sunspots, you have to sheet home responsibility for those results to the political leadership of the party.
The under-estimation is still there. Senior Labour MPs like Trevor Mallard (who delivered the worst result for Labour in 100 years, yet still drives their strategy) boasted today that Labour will win in 2014, 2017 and 2020. To claim victory 30 months before an election is arrogance enough, let alone the two after that. They have convinced themselves that all they have to do is wait.
Key’s skill was demonstrated by dropping the class-size issue, Trotter says. “That ability to simply say, ‘This isn’t worth it, get rid of it, go hard to starboard’, is rare in politicians. Most will die in a ditch rather than admit they were wrong. “Key has this facility, which we saw over mining in national parks and now over class sizes, where he just cuts his losses, and I think that’s attributable in a strange way to his experience in the currency trade, where you do not throw good money after bad. If you’ve made a bad choice, take the loss and make it up somewhere else in the next few hours or next few days. That’s a marvellous ability to bring to politics, because if you’re on a hiding to nothing, then accept nothing and stop taking the hiding.”
Related to this is that Key doesn’t hate doing a compromise. In business, the way you get an agreement is you compromise. In politics compromise is seen as weak by many leaders, but Key sees it as a strength. And in an MMP environment, where the Government does not have a majority, it is a necessary skill.
Tags: Guyon Espiner, John Key