Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Zealander Of The Year

Still Number One: Five years after his election as New Zealand's 38th Prime Minister, John Key is still New Zealanders’ first choice as leader and his party consistently polls ten clear points ahead of its nearest rival. This would be a remarkable feat under the old first-past-the-post electoral system, it is nothing short of astonishing under a system of proportional representation. Love him or loathe him, John Key remains the indisputable master of New Zealand's political domain.
 
IT IS FITTING that my New Zealander of the Year should be a politician. Not only is politics this columnist’s bread and butter but, like ‘em or loathe ‘em, politicians are the people who affect us most directly. They write the rules of our daily lives. They hold the ring in which we struggle to make a living. In the twenty-first century just about everything we encounter, except the weather, is the product of social organisation. And wherever you find social organisation, there also you will find politics - and politicians.
 
My first thought for New Zealander/Politician of the Year was the new Leader of the Opposition, David Cunliffe.
 
Mr Cunliffe had, after all, begun the year as a disgraced and despised (at least by a majority of his caucus colleagues) back-bencher, and is ending it as his party’s leader. That sort of come-back is, if not unprecedented, then, at least, highly unusual. A great many talented politicians simply would not have bothered to stick around after being treated as shabbily as Labour’s caucus treated Mr Cunliffe.
 
Charles Chauvel, for example, walked away from his political career after being told by the supporters of Mr Cunliffe’s predecessor that his steadfast support for the Member for New Lynn would cost him a seat at any Cabinet Table presided over by David Shearer.
 
In Mr Chauvel’s case, Labour’s (and New Zealand’s) loss was the United Nation’s gain. There can be little doubt that Mr Cunliffe’s highly marketable skills would have been snapped-up just as quickly had he, too, decided that the game of politics was no longer worth the candle.
 
The morale of his supporters certainly flagged following the outrageous treatment meted out to him following the 2012 Labour Party Conference at Ellerslie. Not since the darkest days of Rogernomics in the late-1980s had Labour Party members witnessed such a venomous display of factional back-biting. But the member for New Lynn’s faith in his political destiny never wavered. Throughout it all, Mr Cunliffe conducted himself like one who has seen already the faces of Dame Fortune’s cards - and knows he cannot lose.
 
Runner-Up: David Cunliffe staged a remarkable comeback in 2013, but in his first 100 days as Labour leader failed to capture the electorate's imagination as completely as John Key did between December 2006 and February 2007 .
 
And so it proved. Quite out of the blue Mr Shearer folded his cards, gathered-up what was left of his stake, and left the table. From that point on Mr Cunliffe’s victory was assured. Only the most rank skulduggery could have robbed him of the victor’s crown - and when it came to digging skulls his opponents simply did not know where to sink their spades.
 
But, winning the leadership of the Labour Party is a long way from winning the confidence of the country. To do that one must not only have a story to tell the country, it must also be a story the country is wanting to hear.
 
Now, you might object that Mr Cunliffe has barely been 100 days at the helm of the Labour Party, and that a great many more days than that are required to open the ears of the electors. My answer to that objection would, however, be a blunt as it is bleak: 100 days was all the time Mr Cunliffe had.
 
One year out from an election most voters have already made up their minds. To have any chance at all of changing those minds a new leader has to hit the ground running with a message he knows the electorate is longing to hear.
 
And that brings me to the man who, I believe, must once again step forward to claim the title of New Zealander of the Year.
 
John Key became Leader of the Opposition in November 2006, and by 6 February 2007 he had the country’s full attention. His visit to McGehan Close, a poor street in Labour’s Auckland heartland, marked him out as a National Party politician of a very different sort - a man quite unlike his flinty-faced predecessor, Dr Don Brash. His invitation to take one of the street’s residents - a young girl named Aroha - to the 2007 Waitangi Day celebrations (an invitation she eagerly accepted) only added extra icing to the cake.
 
Seven years on, Mr Key remains New Zealanders’ overwhelming choice as “Preferred Prime Minister”, and his party continues to poll in the high 40s. This would be a remarkable feat under the old first-past-the-post electoral system, it is nothing short of astonishing under a system of proportional representation.
 
Nothing that has happened in 2013: not the GCSB controversy; not the partial privatisation of state assets; not Kim Dotcom; and certainly not David Cunliffe; have been able to make even a sizeable dent in Mr Key’s apparently impregnable political armour.
 
For holding our attention - and our affection - for yet another year, I cannot forebear from naming John Key, New Zealander of the Year.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 31 December 2013.

15 comments:

Barry said...

I think it's awful that so many NZers seem not to see that Key's government (ie official) racial discrimination favouring part-maoris - and Pacific islanders - is destroying NZ. That is that Key is destroying NZ. Death by politician!

Tiger Mountain said...

The fear and loathing has begun for another year!
Final roll of the dice for decent kiwis over 50 in this lifetime really. Walking around ‘Orcland’ a hell of a lot of it resembles “Mad Max II” already.

Give us all the strength to see it through and then wave goodbye to ShonKey at Auckland International airport as he boards his plane to Hawaii.

Davo Stevens said...

The title "Sir John" has a ring to it. In the pipeline perhaps?

Cunliffe has to come up with something radically different, not a variation of Gnatlite, or he's destined to oblivion.

Will he do so? Or is he afraid of scaring the horses?

corokia green said...

'Just about everything we encounter except the weather'. Well Chris, in the 2nd half of this century our kids and grandkids will be cursing John Key and the other politicians who put short term greed ahead of doing anything about climate change. Inaction by the current batch of politicians will affect the weather too.

Kat said...

And 'your' New Zealander of the year will be busy busy churning out the 'good news' this year by the dump truck full. And Morning Report will be full of it from April on.

But then wait, all those that didn't vote in 2011!?

The Flying Tortoise said...

John Key is a loathsome person and he disgusts me. Unfortunately he's the best Prime Minister we have at the moment...

Saarbo said...

John Key has an impressive set up behind him (supported by big money I guess). I have a facebook friend who is an ex popular radio jock(mediaworks) who is constantly putting out pro john key messages, he gets a bottle of wine from John Key each Christmas and probably other benefits. The machinery to put something like this in place must be immense. So perhaps your New Zealander of the Year Award should be a "Team" award.

markus said...

Part 1

"John Key became leader of the Opposition in November 2006 and by 6 February 2007 he had the country's full attention" and "(Cunliffe) failed to capture the electorate's imagination as completely as John Key did between December 2006 and February 2007."

Aye, true enough. By early 2007, Key was scoring in the mid-to-late 20s in the Preferred PM stakes, Cunliffe, on the other hand, has spent his first few months as leader in the early-to-mid teens.

Having said that, Clark continued to maintain a pretty clear lead over Key until May 2007. From that point, Key really started to consolidate his support, consistently scoring above 30% (though rarely above 36%)and almost always remaining ahead of Clark right through to the 2008 Election. He received a further boost in early 2008, for the first time consistently taking more than 35%and quite often more than 40.

markus said...

Part 2

"Seven years on, Mr Key remains New Zealanders' overwhelming choice as 'Preferred Prime Minister'......." and " Love him or loathe him, John Key remains the indisputable master of New Zealand's political domain."

Yeah, but I would say that Key's on something of a long-term declining trajectory in the Preferred PM stakes. Almost entirely in the late 40s to mid 50s range between early 2009 and late 2011 (reaching the late 50s in the latter half of 2011), then an abrupt drop in early 2012 (delayed reaction to Teacup saga ?) with Key falling to a 46% average, and then another abrupt drop in mid 2012 and Key's been drifting in the late 30s/early 40s ever since. (I'm excluding Herald-Digi Polls because, unlike the others, they don't include the considerable number of Don't Knows). And, indeed, that's another point. Generally you'll find the proportion of Don't Knows / None-of-the-Aboves is very similar to the proportion choosing Key.

So, while it's true he remains well ahead of Cunliffe and everyone else, Key has become a minority taste over the last couple of years.

markus said...

Part 3

"My answer...would, however, be as blunt as it is bleak: 100 days was all the time Mr Cunliffe had. One year out from an election, most voters have already made up their minds."

Yeah, I think Claire Robinson's put forward a similar sort of argument. All depends, though, on precisely who's made up their mind. If it's just the dyed-in-the-wools, with swing voters holding off until later in the year then it's not such a bad scenario.

I've done a quick bit of analysis comparing poll averages for late 2007 and late 2010 with the 2008 and 2011 General Election Results respectively (ie Left and Right Bloc votes at the last 2 Elections relative to what they were polling precisely a year before).

Late 2007, Left averaged 42% in polls, 2008 General Election = 42% (so equal)

Late 2010, Left averaged 41% in polls, 2011 General Election = 40% (so down 1 point)

Late 2013, Left currently averaging 46% (so might expect 45-46% 2014 General Election)

The Right Bloc at 2008 General Election, meanwhile, was 2 points down on their late 2007 poll average, while their vote at the 2011 General Election was down 3 points compared to Nov/Dec polls of 2010. Late 2013, Right currently averaging 49% (so might expect 46-47% 2014).

That doesn't, of course, take into account the niceties of whether or not various minor parties (particularly of the Right) make it back or not. There are a number of possible scenarios, though, where the two Blocs are roughly tied (possibly even with the Right slightly ahead), but where the Left win by 2 or 3 seats.

The Nats, incidently, were down 4 points and 5 points respectively at the 2008 and 2011 Elections relative to their poll averages the year before. I do like to think that maybe, just maybe, they underperformed relative to their poll ratings because poor polling methodology exaggerated their support-levels. It'd be nice to think they're actually languishing around the 40-42% mark (disguised by somewhat iffy polling) as we speak.

And, although I remain a little pessimistic about the chances of a change in government (as you imply, it's a very tight race but the Nats probably have the edge), one pleasing development is that the MSM are increasingly comparing the Left and Right Blocs as a whole in their opinion poll analysis. Whereas, of course, in 08/11 they were grossly misleading voters by placing entire analytical emphasis on the wide support gap between National and Labour (FPP-style). Thus encouraging Labour supporters into non-voting (especially with Front-Page headlines like THE DOMPOST's 'Labour is Dog Tucker').

markus said...

And last but not least, Part 4

"The morale of (Cunliffe's) supporters certainly flagged following the outrageous treatment meted out to him following the 2012 Labour Party Conference at Ellerslie. Not since the darkest days of Rogernomics in the late-1980s had Labour Party members witnessed such a venomous display of factional back-biting."

Yep, I'd have to say Chris "Chippie" Hipkins can count himself very lucky to be where he is today, given his behaviour towards Cunliffe and his supporters at the time.

Vis-à-vis the 80s, two names come immediately to mind: "Gene" and "Leckie". The Rogernomes' enforcer. Bordering at times on Mafioso territory.

Anonymous said...

Chris, it is not that hard to become (again) the "New Zealander of the Year", when you have the bulk of the mainstream media pack more or less sing from your own song-book!

I wish to emphasize this, it was largely the mainstream media's charm offensive favouring John Key, that led to the National Party winning the 2008 election, and to their forming of a government. Key was portrayed as a kind of "hero" and "Mr Nice Guy", who worked his way up from state home back-ground.

Looking back at the election campaigns and how they were run, the reporting and targeted questioning of the leading candidates was appallingly biased. Yes, many voters had got tired of Helen Clark and her last government, but National winning 2 terms in a row, this year possibly (and I hope not) a third one, that will largely be to the credit of a more and more superficially reporting, commercially focused, one liner and slogan loving mainstream media.

It is corporates behind the media controlling this country, and they have vested interests in who governs, as they run businesses and want to earn dollars.

Also has New Zealand as a country become so commercialised, as a society, and the populace become so brain washed into consumerism, and being fed bits of data, that is mostly issued by trading bank economists, by local business leaders and a Department of Statistics, that also largely focuses on business results, employment data (sometimes rather questionable), distorted inflation figures and growth of population and retail and wholesale sales, it seems that it is all geared for commerce and none else.

The country has long lost its spirit, if it ever had one. It is all commoditised what we hear and see, and people behave accordingly, while many strings are also actually being pulled overseas.

So present the lulled and blinkered people some dressed up "economic growth" figures, and they mostly think, hey, cool, we better not risk the gravy train for those that enjoy it, as we may otherwise not get the crumbs that (may) fall by the plate's edge.

Yes, I sigh every time I hear Key getting credit. For what, I ask? Go and analyse the damned figures and dissect the data, and things look less thrilling. But the media are not interested, as they rather tweet each other frivolities and trivialities, than report on what matters.

Cheers to JK, have another bubbly one on us idiots here back home, while you are toasting Hollywood's big knobs on the Hawaiian golf courses.

Mike

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You all talk as if Key or Cunliffe have some power to win elections :-). NZ elections are cyclical. People get tired of the Gov. and elect someone else. The only wild card these days is the minor parties. They have the power to change governments - or not.

Davo Stevens said...

@ Surgeon; yep, Govts are voted out never voted in. It's almost a foregone conclusion that they never last longer than three terms here.

I would hardly describe Johnny as the best PM, it's just that the others are untested so far. 2014 is going to be an interesting year!

Anonymous said...

Be Careful of what you wish for. Here is my take if the Left win the 2014 election. The Coalition of Labour, Greens, Mana, Maori, and maybe NZ first, will be a coalition from Hell. The policies all left leaning, will cause ructions and infighting , and I will be surprised if the coalition will last the 3 years, and the left will destroy itself for at least 3 elections after.