Robson On Politics: John Key's leadership

Published: Tue 28 Nov 2006 01:21 PM
Robson-On-Politics - 28 November 2006
John Key's leadership: What's the big picture?
John Key's selection as National Party leader may turn out to be the smartest thing that National has done since it selected Jim Bolger to lead the party twenty years ago. They are in need not just of a merchant banker but a soft-soap merchant to sell their policies.
For younger readers, a recap of our recent political history is probably in order. You might only remember the leaders that led National to utter humiliation and defeat.
But once upon a time then was a man called Jim Bolger. He didn't win his first general election as leader, in 1987, but he did lead National to a massive election win three years later in 1990.
How did he do it?
But telling the electorate what they wanted to hear.
And what did they want to hear?
They wanted a Major Party that would reject the extremist, heartless and impractical economic and socially divisive policies of the 4th Labour Government of 1984-1990.
And Mr Bolger promised just that. He promised a compassionate, conservative style of government in the face of the poisonous policies of the 4th Labour Government which history has given a name: Rogernomics.
Mr Bolger promised an end to Rogernomics and won a mandate but the moment votes had been counted after the 1990 election he put a Rogernome, Ms Ruth Richardson, into the finance portfolio and in came policies like Crown Health Enterprises (you had to pay a fee to go to a hospital), asset sales (NZ Railways was sold as were the last of the public shareholding in BNZ bank), unemployment soared to above 20% for Maori and toward 9% for non-Maori and welfare dependency and drug abuse and violence rose.
Before you knew it, a public revolt ensued and Mr Bolger only just managed to hold on to power three years later in 1993 - the same year as the people voted to introduce a new proportional representation voting system to protect us from any future Rogernomic government. It was the year of the Alliance – New Labour and the Greens working together for 18% of the vote. With this Alliance the tide began to turn and Labour was forced to back away, partially, from Rogernomics.
Mr Bolger went on to win the first MMP election for National in 1996, but mysteriously, the National party lost its collective mind and removed him in favour of a Rogernome in the form of Jenny Shipley, who promptedly led the party humiliating defeat in 1999.
They then compounded their errors.
In the 2002 election, National promised that if it won it would abolish the Maori seats in favour of a phony "one law for all" slogan of national division and pain.
National was of course promptly rejected in 2002 and then the party gave lots of table-thumping speeches in Parliament (in 2003) condemning the Lab-Progressive Government for not being a lap-dog to Tony Blair, John Howard et al.
I guess that means a National government would have wasted young Kiwis lives in an evil, pointless and illegal war on the Iraqi people.
Desperate, National eventually turned to another Rogernome, Donald T. Brash, who again promised to abolish the Maori seats and deliver social division and unhappiness to our nation and Mr Brash of course again led National to deafeat - its third in a row.
Yep, there is no question about it: John Key's selection as National Party leader is the smartest thing that National has done since it selected Jim Bolger to lead the party a generation ago.
His comments yesterday - about reaching out to all parties in Parliament - and his very positive, optimistic and cheerful personality combined with the electorate’s wariness of a Labour Party seen as high-handed and arrogant ( pledge card, Mallard on the stadium) represent by far the biggest electoral challenge to the centre-left since 1999.
What does that mean for the progressive gains since 1999?
National has another leader and team who will tell the people what they want to hear .But the key ( pun intended) questions to ask are:
What does that mean for the chances of long-term survival for Four Weeks' Annual Leave for workers?
What does it mean for the New Zealand-owned popular bank, Kiwibank?
What does it mean for industry, regional and economic development and jobs?
What does it mean for Modern Apprenticeships and cheaper doctors' visits for the elderly and the young?
What does it mean for Paid Parental Leave?
What does it mean for all of the progressive things that Jim Anderton and the junior partner in the coalition government have championed and promoted since 1999?
I don't want to be naive or overly optimistic.
But I think it is reasonable to think that all of these progressive gains are more secure as long-term features of our political and cultural landscape than they were when Don Brash or Jenny Shipley were National's leaders.
It depends, of course, on Mr Key keeping to his word and keeping to the big picture that he outlined yesterday at his press conference. And it would not be wise to hang your hat on those promises. We’ve been there before.
But he'll be influenced by the fact that, unlike Mr Bolger in 1990 who had an absolute majority in Parliament, any Key-led government will need the co-operation of other parties in order to form a government.
At the very least, any potential future National-led government will need the Maori Party in order to govern. And Maori have never shown any strong urge to reverse these progressive gains of the past seven years.
I hope Mr Key does walk the line that he outlined yesterday - the line that he wants National to be an inclusive, truly national party, a party that doesn't try and play on or to create division between Maori and Pakeha, try to create unease between "Mainstream" and "other" New Zealanders etc. I think that would be excellent news for the health of the body politic and for social harmony and it also means that all of the progressive gains since 1999 are much more secure than they were under National's last three leaders of failure.
Hopefully it means that National has re-learnt that the way National eventually got into government in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was "the natural party of government," was by embracing the values of most Kiwis who supported the welfare state - instead of trying to dream up clever Spin Tricks designed to divide and rule its way into office on false pretenses.
But we all know that we have to be careful of the wolf that is dressed in sheep’s clothing. The National Party knows that it has to give the electorate soothing words to get elected. Nuclear weapons by lunchtime is not a policy to get them into government. So out comes the flannel and soft-soap. And John Key is seen as the man to do the PR just as Lange was for Labour in 1984.
Colin James in the Business Herald of November 27 has given his prediction of what a Key government will do:
“Key wants a long-run government. That implies taking reform in stages and taking the public with the Government-notably for example, on sell-downs of minority shareholdings in State-owned enterprises…they would lean in a pro-business direction, reducing regulation(particularly labour market regulation), taxes and State ownership of businesses such as SOE’s; they would also loosen Government agencies’ dominance of social and environmental services by increasing backing for and partnership with non-Government and privately owned ventures.’
So welcome back privatisation of public assets and manoeuvres to weaken unions
What does it mean for the centre-left?
The challenge for LPG, the Labour-Progressive-Green bloc, is to outline a programme in 2008 that goes further than National is prepared to deliver: On economic development, on jobs training and public education, on social justice and environmental and conservation enhancement.
It has always been the case that the leadership of this country has come from the Left.
The Right has always followed.
The Left introduces reform - in the 1890s, in the 1930s, in 1999.
The Right promises to maintain the gains.
Then the next challenge for the Left is to extend the gains, to offer greater freedoms and more liberty and further steps to social justice and opportunity.
MMP saved us from Don Brash's poison
Nicky Hager's book has had a lot of media coverage over the past few days and I don't have anything much to add.
For me, the most important lesson I have got out of it all is that in spite of all of the Big Money, in spite of all of the Spin, in spite of the best efforts of the Exclusive Bretheren's shady campaign to put out lies and to hide its identity, the campaign failed. End of Story.
It failed to win popular support - just as the Policy Programme of Rogernomics was never endorsed at an election - it only got imposed on the country by deceitful spin and lies in 1984.
In 2005, it was the MMP proportional representation voting system that worked its magic and saved the country from the Secret Agenda being imposed on us by deceit for a second dose. MMP has vaccinated us against secret agendas.

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