Sunday, February 6, 2011
Karl du Fresne: How will history judge John Key?
Mr Key enjoys remarkable popularity but seems to lack any vision. Either that, or he’s keeping it from the rest of us.
He is personable, media-friendly and seems sincere, but nothing he has said or done since winning the 2008 election has inspired New Zealanders or energised them with a new sense of purpose.
He shows worrying signs of being addicted to popularity. History may record Mr Key as the smile-and-wave prime minister, always ready to exchange on-air jokes with breakfast disc jockeys or be photographed at Super 15 rugby training sessions, but frightened to risk his poll ratings by taking tough action on issues such as wasteful government spending, welfare dependency and economic reform.
His announcement last week of a partial privatisation of four state-owned companies, far from being radical, was a cautious step intended to appease those who are impatient for policies that might lead to the long-promised economic transformation.
Mr Key’s natural instinct seems to be to leave things as they are – hardly a formula for dynamic leadership. His greatest political talent is that his relentlessly upbeat disposition makes New Zealanders feel good about themselves, especially after the dour Helen Clark years. But complacency is the last thing we need.
All this might be less depressing if there were an alternative leader waiting in the wings, but there isn’t. In any case, it would be idle to hope that Mr Key might be elbowed aside by disgruntled National colleagues. National is a party that values power above all else, and will excuse almost any shortcomings in its leader as long as he’s creaming the Opposition in the polls.
(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, February 1.)
at 11:12 PM