John Key’s departure illustrates nothing quite so much that he was never a career politician, and never pretended to be. He was always only ever having a shot at it, which makes it all the more remarkable that he’s made them all – on both sides of the house – look largely incompetent at the politician’s core business: winning votes.
I’ve never voted for him, and I disagree with almost everything he’s ever said or done. So I’m not sorry to see him go, and I give him no credit for going now. Sooner would have been better.
But you don’t have to look far to see some really, truly, lousy conservative political leaders, who make Key look like a genius. Key versus Cameron? Key versus Trump? Key versus Turnbull? There’s no comparison.
Key promised and delivered consistency, or “strong, stable government” as he and his acolytes put it. Never mind the state of the country. Strong, stable government. He promised it time and again, and served it up every single morning without fail. Even when he lied, and said that he lied, and then corrected his lie and said now we can trust him… it’s the most bizarre measure of success you could imagine.
Line up Cameron or Turnbull against the criteria of stability and there’s simply nothing in it. They’re a mess. And Trump’s not even sworn in yet and he’s already infuriated the largest nation on earth.
So in the name of stability, Key let housing slip out of the financial reach of more New Zealanders than anyone thought possible. Under stability, we’ve seen the wealth gap grow and grow and grow. Under stability, Key financed tax cuts for the rich out of a miserable concoction of asset sales and debt. And under stability, Key’s government has presided over an increase in New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions.
And that’s all just for starters. Never mind water quality; immigration; domestic violence; foreign ownership of houses, land, businesses and farms; conservation cuts; public broadcasting freeze; state care child abuse; Saudi bribes; a shit flag … we simply haven’t room for the parts of New Zealand that Key has failed. Maybe next week.
Strong, stable government. And a strong, stable top tax tier. Never mind the rest.
And so, in the name of stability, the government has achieved its main agenda: the protection of wealth, and precisely not its distribution. Pretty much any other conservative government around the world could take a master class.
So we can say we’re not Brexited Britain, or Trumpeted America, or even multi-prime-ministarial Australia. Or can we? There is of course a significant trading bloc that has died before it was even born: the TPP. We’re told it’s not going to happen, and I’d take Key’s resignation as proof of that.
When he said “there’s nothing left in the tank” I wonder if that’s what he meant? His forth term would have been all about the TPP. Its ratification next year and then – according to him – the good times that would flow from it. Even if treasury couldn’t see any more in it than 1% of GDP per year. It would have been all yuss! and selfies galore.
The other card up his sleeve is – was – TiSA: the Trade in Services Agreement, which does for services what the TPP did for goods, only more so. My understanding is that Trump has not ditched this. Most likely, that’s because it will enable his globalised manufacturing businesses to enjoy further gains from vulnerable, low wage economies.
But maybe it too is coming unstuck. Many European countries are going cold on TTIP: the European version of TPP. Maybe Key’s resignation indicates that TiSA is headed the same way. I hope so. Still, now would be a good time to sign this Avaaz petition about it.
Speculating further, maybe Trump’s anti-China rhetoric is putting us in the line of fire. Will push come to shove? Who are we going to be friends with? It wouldn’t surprise me if Key’s run some scenarios and simply hasn’t found one he can work with, or that doesn’t put New Zealand meat in the Pacific sandwich.
I’ve said before that Brexit and Trump are both the wrong solutions to the right problems. But if they mean the end of global, invasive treaties giving unprecedented and unwarranted rights to corporates while removing them from citizens, that’s more than a silver lining. That’s a good outcome.
Maybe he’s worried about Max. I would be if I was related to him. Maybe he took a look at Dirty Politics, and the 2017 election, and thought, fuck doing all that again, even with teflon undies.
Maybe there’s something sordid, but I doubt it. With Max, more likely. At least Steph’s artwork is an attempt at cultural critique. Maybe he’s got a better offer, as per the Herald’s suggestion that he’s tipped to run the IMF.
Either way, it’s easy to take some glee at the prospect that Key’s departure will precipitate instability in the strong, stable government, and that this will in turn precipitate its demise. While that’s an attractive scenario for National haters, it might not work out. Volatility tends to benefit conservative parties, because it motivates their voters, while disaffected people with most to gain from progressive policies become more likely to stay home.
So, what’s worse? A National government that knows what it’s doing? Or one that doesn’t?