"A pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be Prime Minister."
David Farrar has drawn great comfort from a review of John Key’s background appearing in NZ's Sunday Star-Times -- which is now, let's face it, an unreliable rag. (The article suggests the report has some association with London's esteemed Financial Times (FT), but the exact connection is unclear, and a search at FT's site reveals no recent news on John Boy.) The Sunday Star-Times praises his managerial skills:
What made Key an outstanding success in the brutally Darwinian business of banking was not his foreign exchange skills although they were more than acceptable. Instead what set him apart were essentially political and managerial skills. He was unusually good at charming colleagues and clients, and rallying staff around him...
While most successful traders in the financial world tend to be introverted, extremely brainy or thrive on taking crazily big bets, Key had never been a “typical” trader...
“I suppose a lot of FX [foreign exchange] guys do tend to be inward looking [says Steve Bellotti, Key’s immediate boss at Merrill Lynch] but John is a lot broader than that. He has real leadership skills. That was what made him really stand out.”
I have no doubt that John Key's management skills are exemplary. I've never challenged that. I'm sure his ability to lead a team in business is second to none. I've never questioned that. What I do note, however, is the skills cited are not the qualities that are needed in politics.
In business one's goals are generally focused and clear -- the job is to manage your team towards those goals. Politics is not like that. What's more important in politics is not so much what you can do (thought let's not discount that) but as what you stand for: the ability to charm colleagues and clients is all very well, but what's more important is what you're charming them for; leadership skills are all very well, but in a chap seeking the job of Prime Minister what's more important is where exactly we might be led. In this respect, John Key stands for nothing, and the Star-Times article gives no indication he ever has. The worry is that we'll all be led up the garden path.
John Key has articulated no clear direction. None at all. He's given no clear idea of which direction he intends to take New Zealand if he gets the chance, and given his proven ability to make one-hundred and eighty degree changes in direction, no sign that he even has one. In which direction does he intend to manage us? Anyone know? Does he?
Last week's spectacular U-turn on interest-free student loans -- a Labour policy it once promised to oppose with "every bone in our bodies" -- tends to indicate that there is no bone in the National Party body, and no direction in view beyond getting elected. No bone, no spine, no heart, no guts and no vision -- just charm, smarm and the empty vessel of managerialism.
Key's own direction is certainly not set by any inner political conviction -- the existence of which he has never given any sign -- but by the simple expedient of a wetting a finger to find the prevailing wind. A man with no direction is an empty vessel waiting for someone else to fill him up. For all John Key's admirable managerial skills, one is unable to shake the firm conviction that John Key's next direction is all-too frequently determined by the last person he talks to.
In this respect he is the hollow man he's frequently been described as. To paraphrase Walter Lippman's famous remark of Franklin Roosevelt, he is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be Prime Minister.
That's not enough. As Leighton Smith has been heard to say, "John Key's National is not necessarily the answer."
UPDATE 1: Added for clarification: The co-author of the 'Star-Times' article is Gillian Tett, "an assistant editor of the Financial Times [who] oversees the global coverage of the financial markets."
UPDATE 2: Dave Mann puts it bluntly in the comments: "The choice between an ugly domineering asshole and a grinning smarmy conman is not an enviable one and the country really should have a real alternative to chose from. Where is our alternative?" Might I suggest that the only fundamental alternative to all the various brands of Nanny State is Libertarianz -- and to those who suggest Libertarianz need to get serious to be taken seriously I say, "Watch this space."
UPDATE 3: An article that could have been written especially for John Key's list of essential reading appeared as The Weekend Read of the Mises Daily: 'The Role of Ideas' by Ludwig von Mises. Mises points out that "action is necessarily preceded by thinking" -- in the realm of public affairs, acting without thought generally means actions based on the thoughts and ideas of others. Me-tooing. Real thinking on which genuine human action is based means "to deliberate beforehand over future action and to reflect afterward upon past action. Thinking and acting are inseparable..."
It is always the individual who thinks. Society does not think any more than it eats or drinks... The theories directing action are often imperfect and unsatisfactory. They may be contradictory and unfit to be arranged into a comprehensive and coherent system.
If we look at all the theorems and theories guiding the conduct of certain individuals and groups as a coherent complex and try to arrange them as far as is feasible into a system, i.e., a comprehensive body of knowledge, we may speak of it as a worldview... The concept of an ideology is narrower than that of a worldview. In speaking of ideology we have in view only human action and social cooperation and disregard the problems of metaphysics, religious dogma, the natural sciences, and the technologies derived from them. Ideology is the totality of our doctrines concerning individual conduct and social relations. Both, worldview and ideology, go beyond the limits imposed upon a purely neutral and academic study of things as they are. They are not only scientific theories, but also doctrines about the ought, i.e., about the ultimate ends which man should aim at in his earthly concerns...
Some authors try to justify the contradictions of generally accepted ideologies by pointing out the alleged advantages of a compromise, however unsatisfactory from the logical point of view, for the smooth functioning of interhuman relations. They refer to the popular fallacy that life and reality are "not logical"; they contend that a contradictory system may prove its expediency or even its truth by working satisfactorily while a logically consistent system would result in disaster. There is no need to refute anew such popular errors. Logical thinking and real life are not two separate orbits. Logic is for man the only means to master the problems of reality. What is contradictory in theory, is no less contradictory in reality. No ideological inconsistency can provide a satisfactory, i.e., working, solution for the problems offered by the facts of the world. The only effect of contradictory ideologies is to conceal the real problems and thus to prevent people from finding in time an appropriate policy for solving them. Inconsistent ideologies may sometimes postpone the emergence of a manifest conflict. But they certainly aggravate the evils which they mask and render a final solution more difficult. They multiply the agonies, they intensify the hatreds, and make peaceful settlement impossible. It is a serious blunder to consider ideological contradictions harmless or even beneficial...
There is no other means of preventing social disintegration and of safeguarding the steady improvement of human conditions than those provided by reason. Men must try to think through all the problems involved up to the point beyond which a human mind cannot proceed farther. They must never acquiesce in any solutions conveyed by older generations, they must always question anew every theory and every theorem, they must never relax in their endeavors to brush away fallacies and to find the best possible cognition. They must fight error by unmasking spurious doctrines and by expounding truth...
Society is a product of human action. Human action is directed by ideologies. Thus society and any concrete order of social affairs are an outcome of ideologies... Any existing state of social affairs is the product of ideologies previously thought out. Within society new ideologies may emerge and may supersede older ideologies and thus transform the social system. However, society is always the creation of ideologies temporally and logically anterior. Action is always directed by ideas; it realizes what previous thinking has designed.
If we hypostatize or anthropomorphize the notion of ideology, we may say that ideologies have might over men. Might is the faculty or power of directing actions. As a rule one says only of a man or of groups of men that they are mighty. Then the definition of might is: might is the power to direct other people's actions. He who is mighty owes his might to an ideology. Only ideologies can convey to a man the power to influence other people's choices and conduct. One can become a leader only if one is supported by an ideology which makes other people tractable and accommodating. Might is thus not a physical and tangible thing, but a moral and spiritual phenomenon...