Anyone who saw John Key on Campbell Live recently would’ve noticed he is an incredibly likeable guy. Unless of course you are an arch-hack or extremely angry, which many on the Left are. But Key has more strengths than raw likability, and we need to acknowledge them if we want to understand what we’re up against. It’s no use painting Key as a fascist bogeyman when the wider public just doesn’t see it.
If you haven’t seen the Campbell Live piece, it’s definitely worth seeing. Key is effortlessly charming, funny, and authentic. I’ve discussed the piece with fellow lefties, and many admitted the piece made them kind of like the guy. Imagine what the average soft Labour voter thinks (if there are any left).
If confidential US diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks are to be believed, this sunny persona is not an act. Apparently, Key is actually that nice. And if you think Key is merely a gifted liar, check out the vlogs he does. He is not a natural performer.
In addition to this authentic likability, Key is quick-witted and intelligent. If you don’t believe this then you have obviously suppressed the trauma of the Key vs Campbell GCSB debate, in which Key decimated Campbell. Key’s performance is often cited as the reason Shearer was rolled.
This cunning also applies to his politics. His ascent to power was rapid and calculated. He rose from backbench electorate MP to Finance spokesperson by allegedly backstabbing then-leader Bill English the night before he lost the leadership (see here, from 6:20). Similarly, according to Don Brash, he became party leader through a combination of back-room dealing to get the numbers and direct expression of his will. As leader of the opposition he managed the ambitions of his colleagues with aplomb. He promoted English to the Deputy and Finance roles. He gave Brownlee a good list spot and, apparently, a sunnier office (and a millstone like Christchurch). Consummate party insider Murray McCully got the Foreign Affairs portfolio, which just happens to keep him out of the country most of the time.
This may sound like a John Key love-fest, but I’m making a point. John Key is one of the better politicians of our time. We need a realistic assessment of what we’re up against if we want to win.
But more than that, we need to present a believable picture of John Key and stop using absurd hyperbole when reaching out to target voters. Presenting funhouse mirror versions does not resonate with most voters, who have largely accepted Key as a nice guy. I believe we need to work within this framing. To do otherwise is to seem out of touch with voters’ experiences. As I have argued in a previous post, I believe the Left should attack this strength, rather than proceed as if it doesn’t exist. We should demonstrate that Key’s apparent niceness does not match the policies he approves, rather than arguing ‘he’s not nice, he’s a nazi’.
I’ll have more to say on this subject throughout the year. Defeating National depends on defeating Key.