Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Changing Times

A Different World?

What a difference a day makes!  This morning we mark the resignation of two Prime Ministers.  The first was in Italy--Matteo Renzi resigned over losing a referendum.  This was entirely expected, and since very few Italian Prime Ministers last long, it comes as no surprise.  The second was Prime Minister, John Key's announcement to a stunned New Zealand that he was resigning as Prime Minister.  As political theatre it will go down in history.

As one blogger pointed out, Key is the only New Zealand Prime Minister to resign office on his own terms.  This is so unusual that it deserves at least some reflection.

The first thing that stands out is that Key had that quality in spades which is deeply inscribed into New Zealand culture.  He is a good bloke.  He has been the opposite of a professional politician.
 Somehow he conveyed the idea that being Prime Minister was just a job and that he was one of a thousands upon thousands of working people in this country.  Ironically, this intangible quality made him one of the most effective Prime Ministers we have ever seen and will likely never see again.  People liked him because he was so ordinary.  Everybody instinctively knew that if they met him in the street, and greeted him in our blokey manner with, "Gidday, mate.  How are you goin?" he would respond in exactly the same terms.

This attribute is really, really important in our quirky little country.  New Zealand culture is pretty egalitarian in nature and we tend not to respect people who are seen to give themselves airs and undue respect.  New Zealand tends to despise such graspers, regarding them as phony.  John Key was pretty much everyone's mate and he did not appear to carry a list of enemies and grudges.

Secondly, Key was by far the most connected (and, therefore, influential) Prime Minister and diplomat-in-chief of our generation.  Possibly because he was independently wealthy and was extremely successful in his first career working global currency markets he did not appear overwhelmed when engaging with world leaders.  He and Barack Obama joked their way around numerous golf courses.  He and his wife, Bronagh were invited to stay with the Queen--a very, very rare honour.

Key did not seem to hold grudges.  He appeared genuinely to get on well with foreign leaders--even those with whom he would shape up as being on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum.  He liked people--and this showed at global confabulations.  But Key was not just horsing around.  He was also effective at quietly and firmly pushing New Zealand's barrow.

Thirdly, Key pushed his caucus hard.  We cannot remember--and likely New Zealand has never seen--a Prime Minister so loyal to his own people, yet so demanding at the same time.  He has led the country now for coming up to three terms as Prime Minister, yet the turn over amongst his MP's has been legendary.  Most left because Key was able to persuade the non-performing MP's that they had done their dash and it was time to move on.  There was little room or tolerance for dead wood in the National Party caucus.  He was once called the "Smiling Assassin" in the business world.  We clearly saw that skill at work as he cut off the dead or the spent wood in his caucus.

For our part, we had plenty of differences.  But these differences have to do with wider and deeper matters--and we would have those differences with anyone in politics and government these days of secularist hegemony.  Our points of crunching disagreement  have to do with whether one is a follower of Jesus Christ.  And most of them revolve around Key's social liberalism.  In these matters, Key was not remarkable: he was a creature of the times.

In any event, Key has made history.  Ironically his leaving when he did, and on the terms he has set, will cement his place in New Zealand history for a long, long time.  We suspect he will go down in the record books as one of our greatest Prime Ministers.

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