Having just listened to an item featuring John Key on Checkpoint (National Radio) I now have to announce that New Zealand has no-one at present performing the proper role of Prime Minister.
John Key could not have acted less Prime Ministerial if he had tried. Sadly, it’s becoming a habit for him.
Beginning at about 1min25secs in the audio (just below or in the link above) John Key manages to both trivialise the seriousness of the broad allegations that surround his government and turn these serious issues into the pettiest of political point scoring and the weakest and – because of what it says about his capacity to take responsibility - the most alarming of ‘challenges’ to David Cunliffe.
“But I think this sort of quaint little notion, but that there’s a lot more going on or that the left of politics don’t talk to bloggers, don’t do things, all the rest of it, it’s a lovely little notion that might be running around David Cunliffe’s head but it ain’t reality”
“If Mr Cunliffe wants me to hold an independent inquiry into the actions of the Labour Party between 1999 and 2008 he should let me know. If he wants to do that, if he wants to do that, that’s all cool.“
An inquiry into the actions of the Labour Party between 1999 and 2008?? What is John Key on about? Does he have some documented evidence (e.g., a well-researched book and a swag of emails) that suggest the need for a full inquiry into that period?
Of course he doesn’t have any such evidence. So what on earth do the nine years of a previous government have to do with the current allegations against the operation of the government he heads – apart from being the most transparent attempt to deflect attention and spread the dirt around?
It is argumentation at the level of the schoolyard – and it is coming from our Prime Minister.
And this was not a one-off lapse. It was part of a clear and disturbing attitude that John Key brought to this issue from the very start when the book was released and it is one that he continues to demonstrate.
In response to a TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll that found an increased proportion of voters believe the allegations in Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’ book Key was quoted as saying:
“The left have sat there and they’ve said we’re not going to win if we talk about the economy, law and order, health and education so let’s illegally hack into a computer and throw a bomb in.”
This is either a worrying turn to paranoia by John Key or an ill-thought out and completely incorrect and misleading utterance. “The left“? “They’ve said”? “[S]o [let us] illegally hack into a computer“?
What is this monolithic ‘left’ monster in which John Key appears to fervently believe? What huge conspiracy does his fevered mind believe is plotting against him? Is it hundreds of foes? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Where do they meet? How do they communicate their wicked plans?
In short, where is his evidence that there is some combined and coordinated plot against him and his government? In fact, where even is his evidence that the person who hacked Cameron Slater’s blog is part of this ‘left’ that he seems to see everywhere?
And what’s this claim about ‘the left’ having said to itself that “we’re not going to win if we talk about the economy, law and order, health and education“?
Has he already forgotten about the recent Leaders’ Debate in which, according to John Armstrong of the Herald, “[c]rucially, [Cunliffe] scored better than Key on the one subject where Key had the advantage – economic management.“
Further, hasn’t John Key been taking any notice of what his opponents have actually been saying during the last two months?
In fact, just about all that the Labour and Green Parties have been doing is to announce policies over a wide range of areas.
Here’s Labour’s conservation policy announcement, its health policy announcement, its transport policy announcement, its family violence policy announcement, its NZ Power plan announcement, its tertiary education policy announcement, its plan to change secondary taxation arrangements, its policy to end homelessness, its animal rights policy announcement, its climate change strategy announcement and here’s Key’s own Minister, Simon Bridges, showing that at least he has been keeping his ears open as he responds to Labour’s unemployment policy announcement.
All released in the last two months – most in the last two weeks.
Then there’s the Green Party – but do I have to go on?
It is not that his political opponents on ‘the left’ have been cowardly running away from talking policy (the ‘issues that matter to New Zealanders’) it’s just that John Key and his government have become embroiled in a continuing scandal that has turned into an extremely poorly managed crisis of his leadership and his Prime Ministership.
It is not ‘the left’ but, instead, the media who have been talking about – and asking Key about – these issues that have been swirling around and, clearly, swirling within his government.
And they’ve been doing it for one simple reason – they smell something rotten. As the poll linked to above indicates, so do more and more New Zealanders.
There is an evasiveness and complete unwillingness to acknowledge the seriousness of these allegations that now almost completely dominates John Key’s response to this continuing crisis.
John Key’s failure to acknowledge what is obvious to so many is completely to the fore in his embarrassingly ineffective evasiveness in this interview with Guyon Espiner (extreme evasiveness starts about 6mins10secs) on National Radio:
“Is it OK?” Espiner asks repeatedly and simply; yet John Key refuses – repeatedly – to proffer a direct answer.
And, unbelievably, we hear the same evasiveness again in this interview with Guyon Espiner (starts about 4mins into interview) a mere two weeks later:
“Was he your source for that story?” Espiner – again – repeatedly and simply asks. No answer from Key.
Let me summarise the point I am trying to make.
In all of these utterances the argument – for want of a better word - that John Key has been running in order to avoid answering questions about the allegations in the Nicky Hager book ‘Dirty Politics’ is so lacking in seriousness, so undignified and, most damningly, so evasive that it amounts to a dereliction of his duty as a Prime Minister.
The argument I’m referring to amounts to (a) ‘the left’ (whatever amorphous but apparently hegemonic grouping that amounts to for John Key) are conspiring in tight unison against the National government, and (b) ‘the left’ do all the things ‘we’ (i.e., the National government) have been accused of so let’s talk about them instead, and (c) this is all just a big beat up.
This argument, in all its evasive glory, shows that John Key no longer has the instincts of a Prime Minister.
I want to be very clear about this: These allegations that Key appears to want to avoid addressing are of the most serious kind. They are accusations about the use and abuse of power in our government.
Given that – and especially if they are entirely false – it was imperative that John Key, as Prime Minister, should have immediately acknowledged – and still should now acknowledge – their seriousness and then address them directly and thoroughly.
These allegations go so directly to the heart of all that our governance arrangements are meant to be like that they have to be comprehensively refuted or, if true, entirely expunged from the operation of the government.
It is all about public confidence in the processes of government at the highest level. And, clearly, that confidence is swiftly declining.
It is not enough for John Key simply to dismiss these allegations with some kind of ‘nothing to see here’ and ‘it’s just a ploy by ‘the left” kind of wave of the hand. There are very serious, prima facie ‘cases’ to answer here.
John Key is, nominally at least, still the Prime Minister – and because he is it is imperative that he take charge of the process to respond to the entire set of allegations. To do anything less is to abandon what is perhaps the most important aspect of the role of Prime Minister – to maintain public trust in our system of governance.
What is most upsetting, and what John Key himself doesn’t seem to realise, is something that is becoming clearer and clearer by the day. It is also what may well be the most revealing and condemning aspect of his evasive responses and sweeping accusations, even smears, about ‘the left’:
He is sounding more and more like Cameron Slater and less and less like a Prime Minister.