Garner on Key


National is celebrating five years in Government and can be pretty pleased with his efforts.

Five years on and, if you look at the rolling poll of polls, National sits at around 48% and Labour 33%. Though that masks how close any MMP election would be; add the Greens to Labour and it’s much, much closer.

A single percentage point will probably decide the next election. The Prime Minister is well aware of that. He can count. It’s why Key is now openly talking about Colin Craig and the Conservatives as a potential coalition partner.

Key prefers Craig to Winston Peters. I’m not surprised. I think National will offer Craig some electoral deal to get him over the line. National will help the Conservatives win a seat so its 2-3% vote is not wasted. Craig could bring with him 3-5 MPs, which could be the difference.

Is it impossible the conservatives make 5%? They got 2.8% last time with relatively little publicity (but lots of advertising). If it looks like they will make it over the line, they may pick up some support from those who were worried a vote for them would be wasted.

John Key has ruled out Winston Peters in the past – my feeling is he will probably do something similar again, early next year, but the decision is yet to be made. Key will, in my view, lay out who his preferred coalition partners are – he will list Peters and New Zealand First last – he may go the next step and tell Kiwis he won’t work with him. On principle – if Key is highly principled on Peters – he will stick to his previous stance and rule him out.

It will be interesting to see what he does.

Key was far from radical. He is a centrist that loves capitalism, but not pure capitalism. He understands when it doesn’t work and when it’s hurting people. He understands business and banking, and he is close to the country’s top business leaders and bank CEOs. They wish he was more right wing and aggressive on the business front. That he’s not shows he knows where the votes are.

But Key’s trick is this: He knows he must remain firmly in the centre of NZ life and politics to remain in office. He has done that pretty well, in my view. His opponents have consistently under-estimated him. He is much smarter than they give him credit for and he can come across as very ordinary at times.

The list of those who have under-estimated him is a very long one.

The good news is it looks like the economy is bouncing. This is the good part of the story that even Key’s opponents acknowledge, but usually in private.

Growth is expected to be 3.5 percent for the next two years. Some economists put it at four percent. Much of that is expected to come from Christchurch. Let’s hope it gets going sooner rather than later.

Unemployment is down to 6.2 percent. That is actually OK given the world’s collapse. Italy and Greece are on their knees and broke. Spain is the same. Australia and the US have nudged 10 percent unemployment.

Australia’s economic writers wax lyrical about the New Zealand economy and the management of it by Key and Bill English. In fact, more Kiwis are now heading home to NZ than leaving for Australia. The brain-drain trend has reversed.

And Duncan’s overall score:

So Key has had his challenges. Some of them have been monumental. He has, largely, negotiated them very well. He has made mistakes. He, at times, gets it wrong.

But he’s still high in the polls. Kiwis have largely trusted him to negotiate these tricky economic times.

I give him a 7.5 out of 10.

Your choice is between John Key and Bill English with a few rag-tag minor right wing parties – or David Cunliffe and Russel Norman – with perhaps Winston Peters in tow.

Who do you trust?

A good question.

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