If National had not won

The Herald on Sunday wrote an article in advance for their 9th of November edition. It was the one they would run if John Key had not won on the night. Normally these would never see the light of day, but they accidentally filed it , it seems. So here is what you would have read the day after the election if National had not won:

865 words
Nov 9th 2008 12:30pm Newspapers/Nz Herald

On page: 26

IT WASN’T meant to happen this way. So sure was John Key that he had this one in the box that he didn’t have an option two.

So sure of an outright win were National stalwarts like former MP Katherine Rich that she refused to comment last week on the possibility of Key not becoming prime minister “because it’s just not going to happen”.

Now Key has fluffed his big chance, not by losing outright but by allowing Helen Clark enough room to stick a Labour toe in a door that he was supposed to have slammed shut.

Now the voters can do nothing but wait while the negotiators do the deals that will ultimately decide who governs. While Key is a master dealer when it comes to investment banking, it is Clark who has an extraordinary ability to negotiate coalitions, partnerships and support agreements that most people wouldn’t have thought possible. If the Maori Party emerges as the kingmaker, punters are predicting Clark will have the upper hand.

Now the Dream Team, Key and his sidekick Bill English, face another three years in Opposition, another three years before the ambitious 47-year-old leader of the National Party gets another crack at what has been a lifelong dream.

And have another crack, he will.

Broadcaster and political commentator Bill Ralston predicts Key will be “pissed off to hell” with the loss but will treat it as a setback rather than a failure. He would use the next three years to hone his skills, Ralston said. “This is a guy who has never failed at anything.”

Party insiders doubt there is a chance Key will spit his dummy, quit politics and go back to the lucrative investment banking career that made him a very rich man.

That there will be no leadership challenge is in little doubt. “There is no question he will remain a strong uncontested leader of the Opposition,” MP Murray McCully said. “He will be unrivalled, unchallenged.”

He, like others, doubts Key had thought about a Plan B.

“He’s always been the sort of guy who from the time he thought he might take the job on has only ever had one scenario in mind.”

That innate confidence grew more evident as the campaign progressed, as Key’s media training paid off and as he took more risks _ like discounting a union with New Zealand First leader Winston Peters outright.

Ralston said the only way the National Party would lose Key now was if Caucus voted him out. “And I don’t think they have another alternative leader there. Bill English might think he is but the Caucus are aware that Key is the man.”

One National MP said he had never seen a more disciplined and unified caucus.

Whether English would even want the job is up for discussion. A source close to the inner circle doubted English would make a run for the leadership.

“He’s got the best of both worlds. He’s a family man, a committed Catholic with a busy working wife. He’s got plenty of power and influence without carrying the top dog title.”

And despite this loss, National’s polling leaves the party as a strong Opposition, a position Key is credited with achieving. In the next three years Key would have “more mana and authority than any leader of the National Party going back a long way,” one insider said.

Yesterday’s achievement in terms of the party vote would be recognised as being “substantially the result of his [Key’s] leadership”, he said.

“His stocks are very high. He’ll have a good deal of authority.”

He predicted he would be a “powerful and untouchable leader of the Opposition.”

Observers say Key will waste no time in reshaping the National Party, purging the old guard in the process. Ralston expects to see a new lineup which includes younger faces and a more diverse mix in terms of gender and ethnicity before long. Many of the old guard will “take the hint and the nudge”.

“I think he will very quickly take a knife to the party… that’s going to be a risky process because at the same time you destabilise your Caucus support.”

That he’s capable of the hard decisions is unquestioned. Back in the 90s, Key earned the nickname “smiling assassin” after implementing mass sackings for Merrill Lynch.

Ralston expects heavy scrutiny by Key of what went wrong in the campaign because there was “no shortage of money this time round”.

That would include looking at what tactics didn’t work, the party marketing and organisation, and the billboards and television ads.

The “Mr Nice Guy” strategy would be called into question, he said, and whether the party should have used “attack” advertising and Key should have come across as more assertive.

Blogger Russell Brown of Public Address described the Labour victory as a “bugger the pollsters” moment. “In the end people have responded to the trust message. Maybe in the end they didn’t trust John Key enough.”

Ralston predicted that Key would spend the next three years making sure he earned that trust.
Source: Herald On Sunday
Credit: Herald On Sunday

Katherine was very smart in refusing to comment in advance on the possibility of National not winning. I presume all the other people quoted in the article did comment hypothetically.

Incidentally congrats to Katherine for her appointment as CEO of the NZ Food and Grocery Council. The FGC represents $15 billion of sales and $3.5 billion of exports, and Katherine’s background in agri-business make it a great role for her.

Comments (26)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment