I first arrived in New Zealand back in April, this year. At the time, the Oravida story was just beginning to emerge and instantly curdle and I was struck by a few things, particularly by John Key. Describing him at the time as “a sort of slightly airbrushed version of Tony Abbott who prides himself on being a ‘regular bloke” and “David Cameron without Eton, a trait that puts his image more in touch with the average bloke” while noting that he had a startling lack of knowledge about what his MPs get up to.
Looking back now, instead of the smiling unaware Prime Minister being taken for a ride 60km away from the airport, I instead see Key as much more pivotal. Given the problems which enveloped Judith Collins, Maurice Williamson and Gerry Brownlee in the past year, Key’s role was one of orchestral conductor. Filling media slots with statements of confidence, without actually implying he had any knowledge about anything that actually happened. Directing the press back to his Ministers, who angled them back to him, he allowed the news cycles to flow on and his opponents complaints to drift gently out of the public eye.
Masterful, if you avoid the whole ethical point of view. Effective, as long as you’re a supporter of National. Which is why the change in John Key between then and now is so interesting. Key and National have been immensely successful through the cultivation of the Prime Minister as a figure who transcends the politics and rarely missteps. But, deafened by a nearly silent House at Question Time, ‘misinterpreting’ a simple question and now tacking on Ebola to an insult nearly as badly written as Roughan’s biography, the third term incarnation of John Key appears, as a conductor, less orchestral and more lightning.
In the immediate period following September 20th, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding the electorate’s choice. Many of the left could not believe, after Dirty Politics, that National could be returned to power. But it seems that what seemed ignored on the ballot papers has seeped into the consciousness of both the media and the public, and even Key himself. He has not faced an opponent like Andrew Little in his six years as Prime Minister, and the Labour heavyweight has already made it pretty clear he’s not messing around.
Key can only spend so much time defending himself, and that is time taken out from leading and protecting his Ministers. If the Prime Minister cannot be relied upon to effectively defend his Government, then an inevitable consequence will be the targeting of those Ministers who’d previously enjoyed the benefits of his defence. It will be interesting who on the National benches will recieve the attentions of the opposition in the week or so remaining before Parliament rises. Not, however, as interesting as watching if a frazzled John Key can pick up the baton again.
This post originally featured on The Shinbone Star, because its author has no patience.