Well the NZ Herald has finished the second part of what was in total around 15 pages on John Key’s family, history and background. This comes on top of a Sunday Star-Times in depth investigation in Europe and the US of Key’s history as a currenct trader and manager at Merrill Lynch.
None of them turned up anything remotely dubious, which is quite atonishing. Let me tell you that if three journalists spent six months researching my past, there will be much galore. God – just Otago University alone could fill up a chapter or two. Most of us have done really stupid stuff that we later regret and would not have done in hindsight.
One of the NZ Herald stories was on the fight for Helensville. It is all history now but there are one or two aspects to it, I had some knowledge of and can comment on.
Simpson says he briefly considered looking outside of Auckland but for family reasons decided against that. Among the seats Key looked at was Tamaki, held by sitting MP Clem Simich. Party officials convinced him it wasn’t a wise move because Simich had a strong electorate network.
Otherwise known as the Tamaki Mafia 🙂
In May 2001, Key made his first speech on the political stage, addressing a regional conference at Auckland’s Waipuna Lodge before a crowd of about 250 people. Slater liked the content (Key spoke about New Zealand’s place in the international scene), but felt the delivery was unpolished. “His really true character didn’t come through,” says Slater.
John also spoke to a Young National conference around then also, and had an engaging policy proposal – that one should have a literacy test for the dole. The idea being instead of getting the dole, you get paid to undertake tuition so that someone who is unemployed gets taught enough so they can at least have basic numeracy and literacy – to open up job opportunities.
On the day of the candidate selection meeting on March 17, 2002, it is alleged that the start of the meeting was delayed by more than 20 minutes so that a delegate known to be supportive of Key could make it for the vote; normally, the doors to the meeting were locked after 10 minutes.
The delayed delegate was a friend of mine, and he was a bit late to the meeting. His vote wouldn’t have affected the outcome in the end, but if he had not made it there he would not have been popular.
Regarding the door being left open, he said: “I recall that there was one delegate who had phoned 10 or 15 minutes before arrival and said they had been delayed and would be late and was that a problem. We got around that by delaying the meeting’s start by five minutes, then I did an introduction, then I saw the delegate arrive and then proceeded in the normal way.”
The delegate was delayed – the dopey bastard had slept in! And then he proceeded to make up for this by driving along the western motorway at around 200 km/hr and made it just in time!
John Key did so well, he even ended up with Brian Neeson’s electorate chair offering to help him. I like this story:
After winning the candidacy, Key asked Milich to stay on as chairman, an invitation he turned down because he and his wife were heading off overseas for an extended holiday. But before Milich left, he told Key he would help him out any way he could.
“You don’t know where to get billboards from, do you?” Key asked.
“Yeah, we’ll make them. Come around,” said Milich.
For a man who, by his own admission, doesn’t have a handyman bone in his body, it was a galling proposition for Key.
Nevertheless, Key turned up with his son Max and spent the day with Milich, hammering and nailing together billboard frames.
“I had a lot of respect for him after that day,” says Milich.
The other online story is the main 18 page one. I’m interested in the three “swift acts” he took as Leader,as the Herald deccribes them:
First, Key did a deal with chief rival English in which someone else had to lose. In this case it was Gerry Brownlee, the man who had been deputy under Brash and who clearly wanted to hold on to that job. Key cut the deal over a weekend, operating out of his Parnell home, on the phone for hours and occasionally opening his big metal gate to welcome senior party figures in for talks. English was one of them.
By Sunday night Key had managed all the egos to a point where Brownlee was convinced to step aside with English coming into a position of considerable power as deputy leader and finance spokesman. Brownlee retained an important strategic role under Key, who in doing the deal with English for an uncontested vote united the bickering factions of the party.
It is hard to over-state how important this decision was in hindsight. The caucus has never been more unified. It was pretty tough on Gerry Brownlee who had been an effective Deputy to Don Brash. But it also showed Key’s ability to be pragmactic and judge the best course ahead. John would have won a ballot against Bill, but he also needed him to be Finance Spokesperson. And to get him to agree to do that, needed make him Deputy also.
Then came the difficult task of dealing with Brash, who was making noises that he would stay on as an MP if Key gave him an attractive portfolio. For Key, a clean break was better. Having Brash sitting on his front bench was going to detract from the fresh start Key wanted, where he quickly moved to embrace New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy and soften Brash’s Maori and welfare policies.
But Brash was handing over the leadership in the way that prevented a bloody battle and he could have been forgiven for thinking Key owed him something in return.
Brash waited for a job offer from Key that never came. Just a week after stepping down as leader Brash quit politics altogether. Key had ignored Brash’s repeated statements that he would be willing to stay and in the end the pair met to talk and it was unceremoniously over.
In the eyes of those in the caucus who had been Brash supporters till the end, it was a harsh exit.
I was one of those who at the time wanted Don to be given a senior portfolio so his talents were not wasted. In hindsight it was an emotional response, and Key did exactly the right thing by not making an offer. In hindsight I think it was better for Don also to be out of the place. Don leaving Parliament took all the sting out of the Hollow Men, apart from a few fanatical MPs who still quote it every week.
The third thing Key did was a no-brainer but it still required an element of toughness. The party’s problem child, Rakaia MP Brian Connell, began talking of returning to caucus after Key took over. Connell had been out in the cold after clashing with Brash about an alleged affair and he told media that he was ready to come back. While the decision rested finally with caucus, Key demonstrated no appetite for bringing Connell back. To this day Connell remains a suspended outsider.
A third tough call. This was one I agreed with at the time, as I thought Brian had caused trouble for not just Don Brash but also Bill English before him, and there was no reason to think it would be different for John.
Having said that, I actually think it is time for the suspension to be lifted. He is retiring from Parliament in a few months, is supportive of the new National candidate for Selwyn and has not been outspoken in the last year. It would be nice for Brian to be able to finish his time in Parliament back in the National caucus.