I left National in 2008 because I could see that John Key had no ambition for New Zealand, only for himself and his party.
Two years later, Key and National are riding high on their wave of false promises, while the Sunday Star-Times reports the all-too-predictable reality: Kiwi wages slip further behind.
For once I can’t help but agree with Phil Goff, who describes Key’s promise of catching Australia as “reckless and dishonest”:
“He was undertaking to the New Zealand electorate that he had a secret plan whereby he could catch up with Australia, and the truth is he had no such plan. And, far from catching up, New Zealand has fallen further behind.”
Key’s motto, as far as I can see, is “You can fool most of the people most of the time.” And it seems to be working a treat…
Say you’re ambitious for the country. (When you’re not.)
Say you’ve got a plan for growth. (When you haven’t.)
Join forces with a party that actually has a plan. (And ignore it.)
Say you agree with the ‘catch Australia’ goal. (When you don’t.)
Commission a plan to catch Australia. (Then reject it.)
Chide your central banker for saying we can’t catch Australia with your policies. (When you know damn well he’s right.)
Press on with your Emissions Trading Scheme. (When the country you’re supposed to be catching has put the brakes on theirs.)
(And when the science increasingly supports your first instinct that man-made global warming is a hoax.)
So why is our prime minister doing these things?
And why did he take such a ‘principled’ stance in defying his core supporters on the anti-smacking referendum?
The answer is simple.
It’s because John Key is not running New Zealand for his core supporters. He knows he’s got their votes in the bag.
Nor does he have to worry about those righteous ACT know-it-alls, since they’re hardly likely to cuddle up to the reds or Greens.
No. He’s running our country for the benefit of a few female urban liberals of the Lucy Lawless ilk.
Women to the left of Jeanette Fitzsimons, as he calls them.
Women who took one look at his cheery smile and all-things-in-moderation patter and saw someone they could take advantage of.
A Helen Clark with a feminine side.
Women who couldn’t care less about boring male obsessions like money and Australia. But who care lots about carbon footprints and wrapping their kids in cotton wool.
That’s why, when Lucy and Keisha and co. said, “John, go to Copenhagen,” off to Denmark he dutifully trotted.
That’s why, when the lib-fems said, “John, legalise smacking and we’ll smack you,” he was happy to give 85% of Kiwis the fingers.
And that’s why, when wise heads bombard him with sound reasons to delay the ETS, he’ll be obeying Lucy and the liberals and putting planet before people.
It’s great politics. It’s also negligent leadership.
Of course, Bill English and others would say, “There’s no point making unpopular changes then getting voted out.”
Yes, there is.
If you really cared about your country, you’d run that risk, knowing that successful reforms tend not to be wound back.
But you can reduce the risk by explaining to people why we need to change – just as a responsible parent explains to his family why they can’t keep living beyond their means.
Roger Douglas took that risk in the 80s. And guess what? The public didn’t like it.
But they understood it.
They returned Labour with an increased majority, and a mandate to finish the job.
Key could do that too. It would hardly be a huge risk, since the Brash report only calls for cutting spending to 2005 levels.
As Don Brash said, John Key has the communication skills to pull it off.
But does he have the courage?
To find out, keep an eye on that Tasman Wage Gap. Because it’s also the John Key Credibility Gap.
If it closes, he’ll have silenced many a doubter.
If it keeps widening – as we all said it would – the PM’s political epitaph could well be (to paraphrase Julius Caesar):
I came, I smiled, I tinkered.