Scrambling for morsels.

I do not mean to be unkind, but does it not seem like John Key is gallivanting around the world looking to stuff his nose into major leader’s derrieres without substantive returns for his efforts? He claims to be exercising “leadership” and showing the flag at various and sundry conferences (recently APEC, now Copenhagen), but in reality he is an incidental player looking for a photo op. At the APEC meeting he did not have a single bilateral meeting with anyone of import–his breakfast handshake with Obama does not count. Heck, even other small players did not give him the time of day, and that much vaunted agreement to continue discussions about enlarging the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) was no more than a US delaying move while it sorts out trade issues with bigger regional players such as Malaysia and Indonesia (even if the P4 agreement involving Chile, NZ, Brunei and Singapore is used a possible model for the larger deal). In reality, NZ got nothing from the APEC meetings (the bilateral trade deals announced during the time of the meetings had already been finalised and the occasion was merely used to reveal that fact), and the way advanced economies are feeling the heat (no pun intended) over extending climate change controls in the midst of a global recession as of yet in course, the Copenhagen conference  looks to produce a lot of hot air and little concrete action.

Meanwhile political tensions in NZ are picking up, and in fact are the tip of a growing iceberg of social unrest that has seen recent divisions over race, corruption, social policy and cultural mores all hit the media front pages. Meanwhile Mr. Key burns a few carbon credits and gets his passport stamped every two weeks on his way to “summits” in which he has no real say, while Bill English actually runs government policy direction. As an example, think of the Don Brash’s 2025 recommendations–it was English, not Key who dismissed them as unreasonable, and Key has not voiced an opinion to the contrary (perhaps Mr. Key choose to be charitable to the guy he rolled). In fact, Mr. Key presents himself as Mr. Milquetoast–nary a hard word can be heard emanating from him regardless of the skullduggery happening beneath/over/behind him.

That makes  me wonder whether what we are seeing is a National version of the French system, where there is a figurehead president who does diplomatic work but has no real policy making power, and a PM who does the real business of governing. From the looks of things Mr. Key is National’s president, but it is Mr. English who pulls the strings of his globe-trotting puppet. This may be an unkind thing to say, but the more important question is whether it is untrue.

10 thoughts on “Scrambling for morsels.

  1. Politicians who meet Key seem to have largely dismissed him as a lightweight leader. In international relations, the contrast with Clark cannot be more stark.

    John Key is trying to run the country like you would in a hands-off corporate style. He is the top guy, enjoying the plaudits of his peers and generally stroking his own ego in a Wall Street style orgy of self-congratulatory complacency.

    His CFO, CIO, etc etc are left to get on with the job. The trouble is New Zealand is not a business, and politics abhors a vacuum.

    In the vacuum of clear leadership, Feifdoms have sprung up.. Hide is strenuously trying to rig the Auckland supercity to create a permanent powerbase for himself, a corporatist state within a state which will be effectively governed by a non-elected Brashite technocratic neo-liberal elite. The consequences for the National government when people realise they’ve been stitched up in a corrupt fait accompli of rack-renting crony capitalists are not hard to imagine.

    You’d have to be blind – or not interested – not to see the teacher unions are (so far) successfully manoeuvering to destroy Tolley (who has displayed astonishing ineptness in her dealing with the education sector) in a showdown next year.

    Kate Wilkinson is ineffective.

    Paula Bennett, after a surge of talkback support is now politically toxic.

    The press gallery hate Judith Collins.

    Gerry Brownless seems to be going out of his way to buy a fight with some of the best organised groups in the country (trampers, conservationists, etc).

    Nick Smith is emotionally unstable and economical with the truth – his attempt to manufacture a crisis in ACC has more or less failed, in that people are openly sceptical of his claims.

    Labour has successfully branded National’s coalition partner the Maori Party as a sort of ethnic ACT.

    When English brings in an austerity budget in 2010 the public, who have been led to believe the worst of the recession is over, will turn on this government rapidly, and on many fronts. Key will be incapable of doing anything about it as he simply lacks the skills.

    People, who initially found Key’s hands off approach a refreshing change to the workaholic Clark, are becoming exasperated with his vacillating nature.

    I am still predicting a one term government.

  2. TomS. Thanks for that analysis, which goes beyond what I was thinking about. Upon reflection, i have done some brief general updating of the post in light of your insights.

  3. It is deeply concerning that we are spending all this money for Key to wander round the world without one blind bit of notice from any other nation that has any influence.

    Heck, I think we could have done our bit for climate change by just keeping Key, Hide and Harawera at home where at least we can keep a closer eye on them.

    Which leads to another concerning fact, English running the country. Correct me if I’m wrong, but, didn’t he rather embarrassingly loose two consecutive elections because the thought of him having any political say in New Zealand left all but the most staunch right-wingers with cold chills running down their spines?

  4. You’re not living in this country so it’d be interesting how you’re getting your news. Key did make it very clear that the 2025 Taskforce went too much and that he wasn’t interesting in radical reforms.

    As for international affairs. New Zealand has always received morsels. In many respects Clark was an exception to the rule. We’ve never really had spectacular leaders on the world-front. Nor should we expect to. We’re a small country and very isolated meaning we’re not anywhere strategic as other small countries are. Our only real influence is in the pacific. As that isn’t much concern for many countries our influence is small.

    Even as well-heeled in international matters that Clark was. She still often missed out on substantial meetings with leaders. Our media will jump over anything meaning we’ve always had coverage where we get these photo-ops. That Clark could articulate the importance of such meetings was a strength (even if most of them were well unsubstantial). Key doesn’t have that ability.

    As for the idea that Key is some figurehead. Does he control the party and government to the extent that Clark does? No. But the fact this National government has been so conservative in reforming the country I think points to Key’s leadership. If anything Key’s management means this government moves too slowly. Therefore I find it incorrect to say Key doesn’t have the decision-making power.

    As for the nonsense Semmens trots out. That seems to be more of the oft-repeated crap that somehow New Zealanders will wake up and flock back to Labour, because this National government is so awful. It’s the same ignorance many on the right had and still have about the Clark government.

  5. Gingercruch, as I use my real name and as I don’t know you please do me the courtesy of calling me Mr. Semmens, unnecessary rudeness seems such a marker of the right blogsphere.

    Thanks Pablo. Reflecting on your comments that NZ might be moving to a French style of government, I think that MMP has changed the nature of the role of the PM in this country. MMP makes every vote equally important. This means that unlike FPP elections, which were fought out in a handful of marginals, the nation-wide campaign is all important. That means the leader of the party is now the all-important symbol, and that leader is essentially sold as a brand, not the front of a political idea. The leader must be seen in terms of a brand – trustworthy, reliable, honest, in touch – not in terms of policies. Key is similar politically to Lange – his primary job was to defeat a formidable incumbent. Somehow Key, a multi-millionaire who lives in mansions and gated communities has been successfully branded as a latter day “Kiwi Keith”. As Cadbury found out though, people can turn on a brand very, very, very quickly.

    I never really brought into the “evil Key with the hidden agenda” line. Key is a political lightweight, a two dimensional figure with no real convictions beyond a vague neo-liberal pragmatism and an overweaning ambition. To sum up, to me we are not moving to a “French style”. The job IS changing, but Key is just so insipid it seems to look that the PM is losing real power.

    Gingercrunch seems to believe I think New Zealanders will “wake up” and return to Labour. I said no such thing – indeed I never mentioned Labour. Quite where he got such an idea from mystifies me.

    I do know Goff is a vastly experienced politician, and his PR man John Pagani is a wiley character. I have detected hints that the critical MMP re-branding strategy for Goff is now underway. Time will tell.

    Pablo mentioned a “growing iceberg of social unrest”. As if summoned, I read Rod Petricevic, the so-called “bankrupt” former boss of failed finance company Bridgecorp, was beaten up by angry patrons at an Auckland restaurant. An absolutely incredible event for this country. Bruce Sheppard, head of the shareholders asdsociation, wrote an article in the paper calling for similar action against other members of our criminal business class.

    Labour was defeated on a tide of inchoate anger at the ‘nanny state”. Labour’s defeat assuaged people for a while, but the anger is returning – and quickly. That anger to me is part of a harder to pin down, unfocused general anger directed at New Zealand’s elites. We are in danger of becoming a South American society, with a cronyist elite that is self serving, out of touch, and out of control. This is in itself another symptom of the structural damage Rogernomics wrought on our civic society. Even after nine years of incrementalist Labour the Rogernomics straightjacket remains in place. Rogernome acolytes still occuply many important positions in business and government.

    The party that wins the next election will be the one that most successfully harnesses the undercurrent of the furor publicus abroad in our society, but it will have to address the paralysing effect of our “stay behind” neo-liberal cadres if it is get to the root of the publics growing instinctive anger. I know that of our two major parties National isn’t up to the job – and I doubt Labour is either.

  6. Hi – likeed your article ofcourse- am sending this to people I think might be interested – hope yo dont’ mind – hoping to generate some interest in my two anti-war songs – the first, “George and Tony” about the illegal Iraq invasion and the second, “Letter to Mr Obama” concerns the escalation by his administration of the Afghanistan conflict – unfortunately, should have written it earlier. Have a listen – hopefully the sentiments will resonate, and , if so, please pass this on to anyone who may be interested. If it can be used in any way in the debate concerning Afghanistan/related issues, I would be more than pleased.( Anyones welcome to sing/record them, if htey want – )

    Best wishes

  7. The best part is your last para

    That makes  me wonder whether what we are seeing is a National version of the French system, where there is a figurehead president who does diplomatic work but has no real policy making power, and a PM who does the real business of governing. From the looks of things Mr. Key is National’s president, but it is Mr. English who pulls the strings of his globe-trotting puppet. This may be an unkind thing to say, but the more important question is whether it is untrue.

    This is about the roles played by different decision makers and whether they are suitable for modern day politics.

    The same dynamic as Key/English occured with Clark/Cullen. In addition both have/had a team of senior ministers doing the heavy lifting whilst various other are hoped to not make a mess of things at best.

    Your question in the last para could be also asked of wider international politics – Obama/Hillary, Blair/Brown etc.

    What matters is probably dependent on your individual value preference of what constitutes “governing” – Is it day to day political decisions or setting broad policy and having a good team you trust in to achieve the objective or something else.

    In looking at this and the role chosen by the different leader – the test is then “has their style been effective at acheiving their outcome – note it is their outcome not our own subjective interpretation of what the outcome should be”. After that there is a further question of whether the public thinks they have either achieved those outcomes or if the leader/party is a relatively better proposition than anyone else.

  8. As an example, think of the Don Brash’s 2025 recommendations–it was English, not Key who dismissed them as unreasonable, and Key has not voiced an opinion to the contrary

    From the Herald:
    “In that regard I am not convinced that absolutely radical big bang reform is the right way to go,” Mr Key told Radio New Zealand.

    “It would certainly have a dramatic effect on New Zealanders and in the short term it would feel very much like we were pulling the rug out from underneath them.”

    “That doesn’t mean the report doesn’t have some value. There well may be some nuggets in the middle of the report… but we are not going to slash $8 billion worth of government expenditure to get the top personal rate down to 20 per cent because I just don’t think that would be equitable or fair or something we could easily manage.”

  9. gingercrush and QtR:

    I did not say that Key said nothing about the 2025 recommendations. English was the first to give it the thumbs down and Key just followed his line. Check the cited sentence again. I disagree with gingercrush that Key is the alpha dog in his pack.

    The bigger issue is WwHs points out: did NZ get what it voted for? I am not sure that the vote went to National because people knew that English would do the day to day stuff while Key played the role of statesman/kiwi everyman. In the 5th Labour government you knew in advance who ran the show, which parts of it, and what the hierarchy was. Here the roles are a bit more fuzzy.

    With Obama, it was clear that his team is as important as he is and people like me voted for him precisely because of that (I shudder to think what the GOP “team” would have looked like with Palin on board). The French know exactly what they are getting. Blair was too much of a self-serving opportunist to read much into his cabinet. But did NZ vote for Key the figurehead or Key to be in charge? If was the latter, then clearly something is amiss.

  10. As an example, think of the Don Brash’s 2025 recommendations–it was English, not Key who dismissed them as unreasonable, and Key has not voiced an opinion to the contrary (perhaps Mr. Key choose to be charitable to the guy he rolled).
    I’m reading the sentence again and I’m no clearer it seems to me you either mean Key “has not voiced an opinion to the contrary” of the Brash report (incorrect as I pointed out) which would fit with the charitable part in parentheses or you mean he “has not voiced an opinion to the contrary” of English which makes little sense for him to do. You said “has not voiced an opinion to the contrary” my question is contrary to what? And is it actually true that English dismissed the report before Key – do you have any sources for that. The report was released on Monday and on Monday morning Key was on the radio talking about it.

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