Armstrong on Key

John Armstrong looks at John Key:

John Key may have portrayed himself as a moderate pragmatist in Opposition – indeed he is still doing exactly that as Prime Minister – but he is still the leader of a party, the fundamental ethos of which is firmly centre-right.

Yep John Key is a centrist, but he is a centre-right centrist.

Those who argue National was a wolf in sheep’s clothing before last November’s election point to what has occurred subsequently – public service spending cuts, the overhaul of ACC, the privatisation of prisons, the unsympathetic treatment of TVNZ, the review of the Overseas Investment Act, the stop on contributions to the Cullen superannuation fund and the hard line on the financial performance of state-owned enterprises – to name but a few things.

The spending cuts, ACC changes, and private prisons were all well known before the election. Labour never told TVNZ to stop paying a dividend so I don’t regard the fact they just because they practise hypocrisy in Opposition, that National should fall into line.

The other policy which highlighted National’s real intentions was its manifesto commitment to revamp the public service. Key may have made reassuring noises that National was going to freeze existing staff numbers overall rather than cutting them. But National’s intention to put more resources into the “front-line” necessarily meant cutbacks in the Wellington bureaucracy. It also meant that if some departments needed more staff, others would have to cut their staffing levels. The policy was transparent on where these should come from by highlighting the explosion in policy analysts and public relations, communication and media staff.

Yep. If there is an overall freeze on staff numbers, it was always inevitable that some agencies would have reductions as others needed to grow.

Internal factors may be forcing the pace. Key is results-driven. He does not stand still. He has written to all his ministers asking them to spell out their priorities. He intends to talk to them about their portfolio work and actual or potential problems. This performance review style of management increases the pressure on ministers not only to deliver, but to look tough and in control.

The real interesting thing will be what will Key do, when a Minister doesn’t perform (and inevitably there will be at least one or two). Now Ministers won’t get moved in and out every few months, but I suspect a second term Key Government (if there is one) would have quite significant changes from a first term. And we may even see a few significant changes during the first term.

But all this ignores the other half of the right-left ledger. Such things as increasing the minimum wage, financial help for the unemployed and those on a nine-day fortnight, stopping the SIS monitoring MPs without good cause, fixing up state houses, continuing with the electrification of Auckland rail, being relaxed about flying a Maori flag on Waitangi Day …

On those scores, the Key Government not only echoes its Labour predecessor, it surpasses it in some instances. It is a world away in ideological terms from National during Ruth Richardson’s heyday.

Yep. And some of its opponents don’t get that yet.

It is highly interventionist, in part because of the recession. But nowhere as much as Sir Robert Muldoon was.

Thank the Lord!

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