Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A can-kicking PM



In years to come, I suspect, John Key’s long-term legacy will be seen as being the PM who kicked the can down the road.

He was a man who understood many of the issues a new government urgently needed to address, and even clearly articulated what that government needed to do to address them. Yet he didn’t do any of them. Not one.

Instead he smiled and waved, and he kicked the can down the road.

John Key said in 2008 that "Nanny State is storming through your front door.” She still is. He did nothing to stop her.

He said (correctly) that in hoovering up well over a third of working New Zealanders and turning them into welfare beneficiaries Labour’s Working for Families programme was “creeping communism.” Yet he never touched it when in office, and the unsustainable welfare programme is now cemented in and generations of children will grow up knowing nothing but mooching as a way of life.

He said that Labour’s election bribe of interest-free loans for student was “unsustainable.” He did nothing about it in office, and the tertiary and student-debt bubble he subsequently oversaw continues to inflate.

He supported Don Brash in his call for One Law for All, and ran on a platform that promised to abolish the Maori seats. Eight years later separatism now, if anything, is worse – partly because his government has been propped up for three terms by MPs holding the very seats he had pledged to abolish.

In his first election, at at time when the global economy had already melted down, his signal policy was a programme of very substantial tax cuts –“a tax cut programme [fully costed and funded] that will not require any additional borrowing” – a “pledge to deliver about $50 a week to workers on the average age” – and a promise not to raise GST. He broke both promises. And taxes remain too high, even as government debt and spending increases.

On present numbers and demographics, superannuation is a ticking time bomb. He knows that. He knew it when he promised not to touch it. And even with explosion coming on, he didn’t. It still ticks – and the sound is getting louder.

He oversaw a disaster-recovery programme in what was the country’s second-largest city that took power away from property owners and vested it in instead in several layers of bureaucracy and grand plans from which the central city is still struggling to recover – if it ever will. It could have been different. But it wasn’t.

Aware back in 2007 that housing was already severely unaffordable, he articulated then an unbelievable solution to fix it. Which might have. Yet he never did any of it it, not one jot. Instead he left the the bubble to inflate, creating serious imbalances, rampant consumption of capital, and leaving a generation locked out of home ownership.

Taking office in 2008 government debt was just over $10 billion. In eight years he has taken it six times higher – with no plans in place for it to retreat.

When he took office the wage gap with Australia made us the poorest ‘Australasian state,’ with the average NZ wage around one-third less than the average Ocker. He made that one of his main tasks. His top job. Eight years later, after refusing to do anything to lift NZ productivity (and refusing to even listen to proposals that might), that wage gap remains the same, and the average Tasmanian still earns more than we do.

This is a man who resolutely refused to make hard decisions. Who elected to promise much, and deliver little.

To smile and wave, while refusing to spend his considerable political capital on what former National leader Don Brash calls “the crunchy issues.”

He's jovial, he's friendly, he's cordial ... he's very much seen as one of us and in that sense he's done a good job. But has he tackled the big issues facing New Zealand? Unfortunately not.

It’s said that Key is respected in Australia for keeping the electorate close while still making significant reform. Yet with respect, what reform?!

If Helen Clark’s inadvertent legacy was to cement in virtually all of the reforms enacted by Roger Douglas, then John Key’s will be to have cemented in hers – while offering none of his own, not one, as any kind of counterweight.

It’s said that NZ is better now than it would have been if any of Key’s opponents had been in power – and, certainly, you have to shudder if you imagine where the likes of a Cunliffe-Norman team would have driven us.

But John Key has done precisely nothing to arrest the slide towards big government that makes the policies of a Clark or Cunliffe possible and the statism they promote still palatable – and when one of their ilk does take over again (and with MMP still in place, against which he refused to campaign, then that is more likely than not sometime soon), they will have a state more swollen after his eight years to play with, and the Clark platform he so carefully maintained to give them a flying start.  As Peter McCaffrey observes from Canada,

for many 'conservatives' who seek to maintain the status quo, that [preservation] can be considered an achievement in and of itself.
But for those of us who are reformers, who think government is too big, who think bureaucracy is out of control, who firmly believe in new ideas and policies, then leaving Helen Clark's status quo largely intact (if not worse in some places), is no success.

New Zealand under John Key was always “on the cusp of something special,” which now with his end is revealed as being only the campaign spin that it was.

He is well liked, and by very many. And that is perhaps the very worst thing one could say about a Prime Minister after eight years in office …


[Hat tips Peter McCaffrey, @caffeine_addict. Key Cartoon by Richard McGrail, Thatcher pic and slogan FNK Creative Workshop.]



  1. Please comment on the remarkable coincidence of TPP being sunk and Key's retirement.

  2. The first 6-8 pages of the Herald today were dedicated to worshipping the dear leader. The kind of shit you expect to see in Cuba or North Korea.

    There needs to be a full inquiry into the complete lack of scrutiny Key faced from the media.

  3. Trading out on democracy
    This is all fair comment PC as far as I see.
    It is interesting to see the statue of liberty alive and looking at brain.
    I never wanted to be part of the Hobson's pledge, but we have lost equality and voting Equity.
    Even the fundamental of elected Councillors is now a major issue.

    The bad thing is that Bill English has learned the cynicism and benefit of trading our democracy away.
    Here is the inheritance for Bill.
    Hone / Mana/ Maori / Nat , suck that ""mother fuckers"".
    I previously saw NZ First at 14%. Now I raise that prediction to 17%.
    I also say that it is not without a good chance that Peters will be PM during the next cycle.
    For obvious reasons. I am not rabid NZ First, but we are going to have our democracy back.

  4. Great stuff - the only thing left out was how he blew all the wind out of Labour's sails - there was nothing the loony left suggested that he hadn't already done or wasn't planning to do - and sadly there's not a lot to get excited about in the hopeful replacements

  5. The most striking thing about Key's premiership is that I remember he was tackled on his government's communism by the MSM precisely twice - both times by Radio NZ.

  6. Hi PC,
    A well-argued read as usual. The Thatcher quote sums things up very well. I think if we continue to be beset by the absolute dog that is MMP, we will continue to see PMs being as centrist as possible, a la Key... we'll never know what Key would have done if he'd been able to affect change, without being hamstrung by MMP. Thank goodness at least he spared us from Cunliffe!
    Matt Covacich


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