Actually, before I go

While I’m away I feel like I should leave you with some helpful pointers on how to cope with John Key.

Let’s start with the obvious.  John Key sees almost everything from a business and finance perspective.  If you are a person who sees everything this way you can appear to be straightforward and to be cutting through the nonsense because money really is our society’s bottom line.  Therefore anything that is not making money is bad, and anything that is making money is good.  Media conglomerates make money (mostly), but Te Papa Press, Learning Media, Te Ara, Radio New Zealand, Concert FM (etc) don’t.  They are, therefore, bad.  From a resource capitalisation view colonising New Zealand worked.  From a big business perspective Wellington is bad.

“The reality is even Wellington is dying and we don’t know how to turn it around. All you have there is government, Victoria University and Weta Workshop”

“Look in the end we live in a world where it’s largely about commercial returns of what is a private station. It’s not funded by the government, it’s not subject to anything. It’s got a bunch of shareholders it needs to make a return to.”

“Maori probably acknowledge that settlers had a place to play and brought with them a lot of skills and a lot of capital.”

This stuff is always going to sound sensible to all the people who are not part of the group Key is using in his example: people outside Wellington; people who don’t watch Campbell Live, and non-Maori (not all non-Maori, but you know what I mean).  People protesting Key’s point always end up looking like the lady who doth protest too much because “in the end we live in a world where it’s largely about commercial returns”.

So, Germany’s invasion of Poland was probably a good move commercially, but the situation regarding the concentration camps is harder to judge when you look at the costs of containing and murdering millions of people versus the captured assets of the deceased.

Key’s greatest weakness is when he knows he can’t talk financial bottom lines.  The GCSB, Five Eyes and Iraq have been like that.  Key really, really wants to say that being involved in all of this makes extremely good commercial sense in the greater scheme of things, but he knows that spying and killing people are things we are told are wrong.  He’s right though, I mean why wouldn’t you want to be buddies with some of the biggest economies in the world?  Key knows that he can’t say this directly so he says other things and looks uncomfortable or arrogant doing it.  Calling people losers and plonkers?  Suggesting that people are traitors not interested in building a stronger (commercial) New Zealand?  Telling people to get some guts?  Key is far outside his comfort zone and it always shows.

Presumably he mainly sees going to Gallipoli as an opportunity to maintain and develop positive trading relations with Turkey.  He will say other things, very poorly, and without emotional resonance, but he will say them because he knows that saying, “look, in the end invading Turkey may have been a huge mistake fiscally in the short term, but in the long term it secured us continuing access to the British markets for a further sixty years”, would be unpalatable in his key voting demographic.  Although it is what he’d actually like to say about Iraq and possible trade deals with the USA.

Think of any topic you like and run this test:


The bottom right corner is reserved for things like whether a celebrity is hot or not, or what it was like hanging out with Richie McCaw.

You can see how Key wins.

Which might make this post depressing, but I think understanding something makes it easier to cope with, and reduces stress.  Up until this point I routinely have had to deal with feeling angry about something John Key has said, but now that I know what he will say before he says it I feel a lot calmer.  You could, in fact, write most political copy in advance if you liked.

Pick a topic from a topic generator and then try to shape it into a likely political topic.

So “Studying abroad” as a random topic might become a topic about foreign fee-paying students in New Zealand. Perhaps Winston Peters has claimed that foreign students are taking valuable spots from New Zealand students.  Running the test I think we would find that we are on fairly safe ground to talk money.

Key has dismissed claims by Winston Peters that Kiwi students are being locked out of some courses as universities seek to fill places with foreign fee-paying students.  “There will always be places at our universities for Kiwi students who make the grade,” Key said. “Universities need to attract the best and brightest from New Zealand and around the world in order to be competitive in the global market place.”

Signal to voters: your kids will be fine.  Competitive, global and market place sounds sexy.

Next topic: New Zealand should become part of Australia.

You could probably do this purely in money terms,

John Key told NewsTalkZB that while there might be some financial benefits to both New Zealand and Australia uniting, it would be better for New Zealand to focus on developing its unique brand.

but it might be safer in the centenary year of Galipolli to use some formulaic phrases,

John Key told NewsTalkZB that while there would always be close bonds between the two ANZAC nations, each country had its unique character.

Signal to voters: Warm feelings about our Aussie brothers.  NZ is special.

A final topic: New Zealand should comment on China’s latest actions in Tibet.

Tricky.  Best to go for the attack.

Key hit back at Andrew Little over opposition calls for the government to condemn China’s latest actions in Tibet.  “We had nine years of Labour not saying anything to anyone about the so-called crimes of other countries whenever it didn’t suit them, but now they have suddenly developed a moral conscience for everyone else,” Key said during Question Time.

Signal to voters: Labour’s just the same.  Everyone does it.  Who cares?

See how easy it is?  Too cynical?  Well, I didn’t say I agreed with it.

If you remember that the first box says: “is it palatable to most voters to talk about this topic with money as the bottom line?” and if you keep in mind who actually votes then I think you will find that this chart works most of the time.

I suppose I should suggest some amazing solution to this problem now, but I’m not going to.  The problem for Labour is that it essentially uses the same rubric as Key.  The problem for the Greens is that their bottom line – the environment – is not regarded as a sensible bottom line for the majority of voters.  Labour should probably go back to being a party about workers (quite a large voting base there), and the Greens need to figure out how to convince people to see the environment as the genuine bottom line before it is too late and they get handed the poisoned chalice of government when the damage done cannot be fixed.

If I were going to be asked for advice (unlikely, I know), I would suggest people who dislike Key’s perspective on the world spend far less time looking for links in a conspiracy, and far more time trying to change the paradigm that capitalism has created.  It is that paradigm that makes Key’s comments so “sensible” and that creates this idea of a conspiracy.  There is a conspiracy but only in the sense that like-minded people deal with each other for their mutual benefit and try to stop people who are opposed to them interfering.  Sometimes this might extend to breaking the law, but often it means taking the law as far as your lawyers can take it.

So the paradigm needs to change, and Key is – in a way – kind of irrelevant to that.  Social and environmental sustainability have taken a second or third row seat to economic matters for so long that the primacy of economics over everything has become normal.  We don’t need to crash capitalism, we need it on a balanced field with the other two areas.  For our social, economic and environmental well-being what is the best thing to do?  Surely that is the test?

Right, so now back to that break I was talking about.

Published by


I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō