But personal style and policy restraint alone do not explain Key’s durability. It lies in his masterful positioning, aided in no small way by his opponents’ ready willingness to shimmy left to accommodate him. As a result, New Zealanders get a National Party Prime Minister to oversee and implement what is essentially a Labour Party platform. Among voters — as opposed to perpetually outraged partisans — this feels close to optimal.
If you were to review the John Key years with names and labels redacted, the ideological impetus of the governing party would not be immediately apparent.
To the naked eye, policy differences between Key’s National Party and the previous Helen Clark-led Labour government (1999-2008) are barely discernible. Key kept Labour’s massive family tax and benefit scheme intact, maintaining or boosting expenditure on health and education. He extended free doctor’s visits from children under 6 to under 13 and, for the first time since 1977, Key even increased unemployment and other welfare payments in real terms.
Meanwhile, his government rolled out a national broadband scheme and rebuilt earthquake-struck Christchurch with the kind of central planning that wouldn’t seem amiss in Beijing or Hanoi. On the world stage, Key’s noncommittal internationalism is indistinguishable from Helen Clark. And if the government’s account is to be believed, their Trade Minister spent less time at the recent trans-Pacific Partnership talks advocating economic liberalisation than defending New Zealand’s exceedingly generous, and inarguably socialist, pharmaceutical subsidy scheme.
Quin has a point. However I would argue (and will post on this in 2016) that Key has done stuff which is both traditionally left (welfare boost, universal health expansion etc) and stuff which is traditionally right (partial asset sales, welfare reform).