We no longer have a Prime Minister

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.

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31 Responses to We no longer have a Prime Minister

  1. Dirk says:

    All good points and analysis. My concern is that Key’s big lie approach to the issues will, eventually work. The MSM and right wing voters will return to their ruts as that is what they are comfortable with. They like to believe the PM’s lies, it is far more comfortable than confronting the uncertainty change would bring about.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Dirk,

      Thanks very much for your comment.

      That may very well be the outcome. My view is simply that John Key, in relation to these issues, should be less concerned about re-election than about addressing the allegations.

      The irony, I think, is that if he had done that from the start his re-election chances would probably have improved rather than taken a hit (of whatever magnitude it turns out to be).

      That lack of judgment is almost as puzzling – but not as concerning – as John Key’s apparent reluctance to act as a Prime Minister in relation to these issues.


      • Milad says:

        Hi Puddleglum,

        I agree with what you are saying. However, I believe John Key himself is personally involved so it’s hardly surprising that he is being evasive.

        What saddens me and frighten me somewhat is your average citizen being so indifferent about this scandal. The impression I get is that more and more people believe in these dirty politics but they just shrug their shoulders and say so what…

        • Puddleglum says:

          Hi Milad,

          Really appreciate you taking the time to comment.

          Key may well be involved – he certainly is in terms of his position as Prime Minister given that he has oversight and responsibility for his Office and the agencies for which he is Minister.

          I agree with your fear about what ordinary people may be thinking (i.e., indifference). That’s one of the reasons I wrote this post. Sort of running some values and expectations about political behaviour up the flag pole.

          We’ll see how that particular flag flutters (or stutters?) in the winds of electoral politics soon enough.


          • Milad says:

            Hi Puddleglum,

            I don’t know but I feel like this is the biggest political scandal in NZ as far as I remember. This is abuse of power and corruption and what makes it worse it’s not one person it’s the whole government.

            I might be biased towards Labour but if I saw the same thing in a Labour led government I’d like to think I’ll be just outraged as I am now.

            We can talk about our ‘rock star’ economy (which by the way I think it’s not true) or the ‘real issues’ but we are supposedly living in a democratic society and surely we have to uphold these values first and foremost over anything else.

            If not then what is the difference between us and UAE as an example?

        • Snowdrop says:

          I hear ya Milad.

    • Rebecca Dodson says:

      well said

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  3. gkea11 says:

    The PM’s obvious lack of action, with regard scandal, over the past several months and the supporting revelations in #DirtyPolitics leads me to conclusion that this Government and it’s political appointments through out the public service, are tainted and untrustworthy, nor fit to manage the affairs of NZ and NZ’rs.

    Every time a Minister of Parliament opens his/her mouth it is tainted with the thought that they are feeding us propaganda and lies. This is a disaster to democracy and confidence in a fair go for all. If Parliament were sitting I feel a vote of no confidence in this Government may have won the day.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi gkea11,

      Thanks for the comment.

      In many ways it demonstrates the real issue here. People already have a pretty low level of trust in politicians in general. The problem with these allegations is that they (a) provide confirmation that that lack of trust may be quite a wise position to hold and (b) that the untrustworthiness is now systemic (involving an embedded network of people), deliberate and systematic (rather than, for example, one or two ‘bad apples’).

      That perception (not to mention reality) really undermines what remains of public confidence in the process of government.

      Thanks again for the comment.


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  5. Snooze says:

    “It is argumentation at the level of the schoolyard – and it is coming from our Prime Minister.”

    No surprise there. If you’ve ever watched him in Parliament, this is exactly his habitual standard of engagement with debate – smart-aleck schoolboy, meeting reasoned argument with vacuous jeering. All bravado and no substance.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Snooze,

      That was one of those ‘trigger’ moments for me. Many politicians say silly things but this was in relation to an inquiry into what I see as some of the most disturbing allegations I can recall about abuse and misuse of power by Ministers and Ministerial ‘staffers’. It made me quite angry that that level of petty political point scoring would be used over something like this.

      For me, these allegations have implications far beyond party politics. If we let this go by without responding vigorously to get to the bottom of it then, so far as I can see, we are only inviting more of the same and worse. There’s no shortage – obviously – of people who will act in the ways described in ‘Dirty Politics’ so our only option, as citizens, is to condemn it whenever it becomes visible and demand a full inquiry into what appears to have been unearthed.

      Thanks for the comment. I always appreciate people communicating with me.


    • Rebecca Dodson says:

      God even more well said.

  6. Where is it the buck is supposed to stop?

  7. cmih2 says:

    Here here. Thanks Puddleglum for taking the time to put this all together. I afraid that I just got angry and had to turn off the radio …. which is not terribly constructive.

  8. donna says:

    The thought of a 2-year long leftie smear campaign/conspiracy makes me laugh out loud. As anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the blogosphere knows, that lot (the mythical ‘left’) couldn’t agree on anything long enough to organise a conspiracy. And I say that as one of them.

    Seriously, good post. I hadn’t thought about the PM as MIA but your point is well made. My big fear is that if the PM and this government get voted back in, then there really is no limit to what they will imagine they can get away with.

  9. George Hendry says:

    Greetings Puddleglum.

    Having read many of your contributions over the last few months at The Standard I’ve decided that this is the place to put a comment I’ve been sitting on for a while…

    As ours is a relatively recently settled country with a young democracy I think it could have been expected that some of the ideals that helped form it would be attacked sooner or later. If those who won’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it, I assume that the history (of which we have so little) first needs creating, as is now happening, so we can later decide whether or how we’re going to let it be repeated.

    We haven’t yet needed laws for removing such a deceitful and irresponsible PM because we haven’t until now had one to deal with. On looking for example into the dense forest of Scandinavian law I would expect to find provisions for bringing down such an arrogant PM quite directly and quickly, and that this is why such PMs aren’t found in Scandinavia. (Though if you went back a few centuries you might read about the shenanigans of the ruler that caused the parliament of the day to make such laws, once they had got through the unusually difficult business of removing such a corrupt PM.)

    As noted elsewhere in this thread, many have yet to recognise the corruption behind the smiley wave. I believe such recognition evolves into a society, that it would be found in Scandinavia and that it accounts for example for the salutary manner in which Iceland threw off the GFC and what its government then did with the colluding bankers.

    Will there be a change of government this election? In a way it’s not the point, and not even desirable if it happens sort of by accident. Thanks to many intelligent blogposts over many months I’ve come to see things I didn’t before and feel certain that this oh so gradual process of rising awareness and clearing understanding is going on to some extent in just about everyone here.

    Smoke and mirror merchants will never give up trying until they can count on enough people instantly seeing through their tricks. Our current spin merchant is spinning like a dervish as the scrutiny closes in and the show must go on until many more of us, enough of us, forestall the applause by calling out the trick. If we don’t manage to get him down this time, at least his dream ride will be over as we wake from our dream.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi George,

      Really appreciate your comment. I tend to be optimistic about life and people – I think ‘the truth will out’, largely because, by definition, everything is what it is and nothing else. The reality of smoke and mirrors is, at the end of the day :-), that it is only smoke and mirrors – and not what it pretends to be.


      • D'Esterre says:

        @ Puddleglum: this is a terrific post and great analysis. I heard that earlier interview with Espiner, and (not for the first time with this PM!) I shouted at the radio. Then I emailed RNZ with the comment “liar, liar, pants on fire” – a reference to the spoof billboards affixed to lamp posts on the Terrace during the dying days of the Shipley administration.
        At the risk of being thought wise after the event, his behavior doesn’t surprise me at all. Right from the time he seized leadership, I’ve thought him bogus, and I’ve annoyed friends who apparently couldn’t see through him. To my way of thinking, he has almost never sounded or acted the way I believe a PM ought. I’m baffled that the MSM by and large seem not to have been at all skeptical of him, until now.
        A comment about his banging the “left-wing” drum: he – along with most people younger than I am – wouldn’t know a left-winger if he fell over one. In my view, we don’t now have left-wing parties: what people call “left” is in fact centrist, as politics here has been inexorably dragged to the right over the past 30 years or so.
        Anent the absence of an actual PM right now, isn’t there a petition to the GG being started up? I’m sure I saw reference to it somewhere. At present, I’m having to rely on free Wi-Fi when I can find it, so I’m not completely up with the play.

  10. Brian Vercoe says:

    Where assessing Key I keep in mind he worked for a Seemly elite enterprise which turned out to be criminal.His fortune was made through looting.As Balzac observed, behind every great fortune lies a great theft usually long forgotten.His connection to Cathy Odgers would be interesting to know.She seems to have connections with money laundering,that have shell companies in N.Z. I think the corruption exposed so far is just the tip of iceberg.If Key gets reelected and the T.P.P. is forced upon us, then our democracy will be but a shell,and it will be welcome to your serfdom.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Brian,

      I’m always reminded of John Dewey’s quote (I think it’s in one of my recent posts) that politics is just the shadow cast over society by big business.

      I guess in a representative democracy you’d predict that those with the most ‘invested’ in society operating a certain way would try their utmost to use what wealth and power they have to ensure it does. The rest of us, of course, need to be vigilant to make sure that, at the least, this influence stays within legal and ethical bounds. The role of ‘money’ in this Dirty Politics saga probably needs a bit more probing by journalists.

      Thanks for your comment.


  11. Christine says:

    Hi Puddleglum,

    I find politics confusing at the best of times, especially with all the ‘smoke and mirrors’, and this has cleared up the vague feeling of unease I have about the whole situation.
    I hope more people read this and start to look more clearly at what is happening in our government.


    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Christine,

      I’m glad you found the post helpful. One of my main aims is just to try to see things clearly or at least understand what’s going on a bit better. I think we all should pay more attention to those (small) feelings of unease we have about life in general and politics in particular. We often don’t want to as we sense it might have to make us change our views or take some action – not always things we relish doing.

      Thanks very much for the comment.


  12. SuzDev says:

    I believe the time has come for criminal activity supported or conducted by government officials to be punished accordingly – a criminal record or jail time. Once they have a criminal record they cannot re-enter parliament.

    I hear too often, amongst other things, defamation of character or illegal use of company funds/stealing? I’m not talking about the usual political mud slinging, but spreading lies about a person to permanently damage their reputation or buying porn and passing it off as a business expense (I put that one in just in case National supporters believe I’m being biased).

    Our members of parliament are “Public Servants” – they are not above the law. We need to attract people who believe in fair play and honesty to politics. I can almost hear the roars of laughter – yes fair play! Not the stupid unintellectual bickering I hear or even “sleeping” whilst in The House of Representatives – if we behaved like that at work we would be sacked.

    There are many politicians who do behave appropriately. There is no room in our government for nasty little criminals who are not doing what they are paid to do – to work for New Zealand/ers.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi SuzDev,

      I agree that we need political behaviour that is appropriate to the responsibilities involved. There’s something about the way politics is currently arranged that leads to behaviour that obviously puts ‘the game’ ahead of all else. As a country we probably need to work out what that is exactly.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to post your comment.


    • Rebecca Dodson says:

      I have read a few books (When the Music Stopped and The Narcissistic Epidemic) a couple among man, and watched a couple of films (the Inside Job being one of them). John Keys playing the same defense all of those that are responsible for the GFC 6 years ago did, its ok, everyone does it, it just how politics work. Very few people were ever prosecuted after that and it was shocking! Some people predict it will be decades if not generations before we settle back to some sense of normality. I feel that it will never be the same again, and unless NZ start to get active and pay attention and vote in who will actually sort out our country not just by the money ledger, but by health, education and well being for all, we are screwed.

      While carefully making sure that the wealth they have looks after their families and the live abundant lives, mean while, the working poor, the poor, and those that are free loaders but still need help, are going with out. By with out, its just being able to pay for cars, petrol to get to their low paid jobs, pay their rent, maybe on an accommodation or child supplements, and food. Not much else. Its the Lance Armstrong argument. I am interested, feel I am the best, there for I am entitled to do what I want, and (ignore that your cheating to get ahead) ignore the moral obligation, ignore those that get hurt and cast off in your wake.

      I for one will not vote National. I don’t mind if its Labor that gets in if they follow the polices they plan to implement on their website, $16 minimum wage in 2 years, environmental and poverty issues need to be sorted out. If I get really lucky the Greens will get in with minimum wage of $18.40, but thats probably not going to happen.
      A culture change is needed. I have been reading all these posts, they are great and glad to see so many life minded views.
      However when everyone wakes up in NZ, that when some “sounds like they know what they are doing, and they look you in the eye and smile saying I have your best interests at heart” we don’t have to believe them.

  13. brgeem says:

    I think most of us knew that within 24 hours of being elected to that role, what seems an eternity ago. In such a position one must first show dignity towards others, something he and most of his ministers have failed to do. Miserably failed!

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi brgeem,

      I agree that a little more evidence of ‘dignity’ would be useful. It’s a civilised and self-enhancing way to act (self-enhancing in the best possible sense of the word). There’s nothing wrong with humour and being ‘upbeat’ but there’s a point where the job of a senior politician demands some self-discipline, responsibility and extreme care – i.e., dignity.

      Thanks very much for the comment.


  14. Sebastian says:

    Unfortunately this has been going on in NZ far to long and while all the corruption charges and fraudulent activities and bribes that have been allowed to continue and blame put to the opposing political parties I think really there is only one party to blame and that is the people of New Zealand for being so apathetic..Rise up as one ,because the government have quite happily let a divided nation continue to squabble over scraps while they take the lions share and it will continue to do so until everyone unites and at least threaten revolution to finally see the rear of the government parties rather than there inane grin and smirk.

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