Times columnist Tim Montgomerie asks if Prime Minister John Key is the world’s most successful conservative and offers 10 thoughts:
- Upwardly mobile: Key is now a multimillionaire – having been a very successful financial trader. . . Voters liked the idea of a self-made man coming home from making a success of himself in the New York and London markets and wanting to help his country succeed too. . . .
- No surprises: Key has enacted some tough reforms included a rebalancing of the tax system that saw consumption taxes rise and income taxes on entrepreneurs fall. He’s privatised state assets, deregulated, introduced stricter welfare-to-work rules – enacting more than 120 liberalisation measures in total. He’s acted like a very conventional, small government conservative – trimming most budgets except health, education and science. But one of his key rules is “no surprises”. . .
- No security in standing still: Speaking at the UK’s Institute of Directors last Monday morning Key was optimistic about the world economy – arguing that, because of the fracking revolution, the reduction in the oil price is likely to be a long-term boon. . . . Convincingly, he argued that governments don’t provide comfort for voters by ducking tough challenges but by meeting them.
- Controlled immigration is a good thing: Net immigration into New Zealand is running at twice the rate (in terms of per head of population) than it is into the UK but Key has sold it as a good thing – arguing that sick economies lose talented people but strong economies attract them. . .
- Patriotic: During my interview with Mr Key he talked about why he wants to change his country’s flag: “our current flag doesn’t mean anything to us”. He thinks a new flag built around the silver fern as worn on the All Blacks’ kit is likely to be recommended to the New Zealand people in a referendum. “If you go to look at the tombstones of our soldiers interred on the western front you’ll see a silver fern. When our rugby supporters want to demonstrate that they are a Kiwi they display a silver fern. It’s fifty-fifty if New Zealanders will vote for a new flag but Canadians wouldn’t go back to their old flag and with New Zealand determined to sell itself to the world we could benefit from building a clearer national identity.” . . .
- A sensible green: Like David Cameron (at least early David Cameron), Key has not questioned either the science behind man-made climate change or the need to do something about it but neither has he embraced the extremism of the NZ Greens (that, like in Germany, Canada and Australia have pulled the mainstream left away from the median voter). . . The Greens in New Zealand, like in most of the world, are actually largely Red in their politics (something this excellent Bribe-O-Meter from the NX TaxPayers’ Union proves).
- Balanced ticket: Key’s deputy as PM and his finance minister is Bill English. Unlike the secular and relatively liberal Key, Mr English is a devout Catholic who opposes abortion, euthanasia and same-sex unions. . . You either build broad churches within your party or you hemorrhage voters to other and possibly new parties.
- Polls, not pundits: One of the Crosby-Textor consultancy’s big messages to the political candidates that they work for across the world is to stay focused on the few big issues that matter to voters and that are winning issues: Stay with the big plan – don’t follow the changing mood. . . It takes guts to ignore the mainstream media chorus and follow a strategy – such as David Cameron is now doing on the election debates and raising the profile of the Greens, the SNP and the other left-wing threats to Labour’s vote. Key never talks about polls or focus groups in public but he is immersed in them. They’re much more important to politicians than any OpEd columnist (and I write that as an OpEd columnist!).
- Selfie conservatism: . . . Key believes that his ability to communicate directly with voters on YouTube, Twitter and especially through Facebook was important to cutting through the mainstream media and its trivialities (see point 8). Yes, he thinks social media is less trivial than the mainstream media. He might well be right.
- Global leadership: John Key is the new Chairman of the International Democratic Union, succeeding John Howard. In that role he’ll advance his vision of “radical incrementalism“, his experience of managing major crises (the Christchurch earthquakes) and caution about Bush-style military action. He may have a significant role in shaping the conservative moment in emerging countries in the years to come.
Hat tip: Kiwiblog