Bryce Edwards: The 20 must-reads on John Key and the leadership of the National Party

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New Zealand Prime Minister John Key greets Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Analysis by Dr Bryce Edwards.

John Key is gone. Why? Who will replace him? And what does it all mean?

Dr Bryce Edwards.
Dr Bryce Edwards.

It’s Keymageddon! The phenomenally successfully National Party Prime Minister has pushed the eject button, and everyone is scrambling to understand what it all means. Here are 20 items of analysis to help understand this quickly changing political situation.

1) Key’s departure is like New Zealand’s Brexit. Massey University political scientist Richard Shaw says “When future generations look back on this year they will refer to it as The Year No-One Saw Anything Coming. Not Brexit, not Trump and now – in our own little antipodean way – not John Key’s resignation” – see: The Year No-one Saw Anything Coming

Shaw doesn’t believe that Key’s endorsement of English will count for that much, but has some other interesting observations about the race for the deputy position. For instance, “Above all, perhaps, in these supposedly populist times they will be looking for someone who is able to connect with voters the way that Key has for so long. Objectively, of course, he shouldn’t have been able to do so: Key was no more an ordinary Kiwi bloke than Donald Trump is a natural ally of working people. But that wasn’t the point: what he has is a sense of self-deprecation, an ease with others and a finely tuned sense of what matters to people that National would like to bottle. They can’t, of course, but what chance a duo between a Westie Chick and a Southern Man?”

2) Key’s departure is sensible and smart, but also selfish. I make this case on the opinion piece, John Key’s calculated ‘hospital pass’ resignation. I argue that Key knew when to sell his political stocks, and could see that a drop in the value was on its way. And for a bonus item with some similar arguments as well as more detail on some of the potential looming dangers for Key, see Colin James’ John Key checks out. The game has suddenly changed

3) The mystery of John Key’s decision-making over his resignation is slowly being untangled. The best account so far is Tracy Watkins and Vernon Small’s: Key’s decision – how it played out. For a bonus view on all the possible reasons Key might have had to depart, see Simon Wilson’s John’s gone: The end of NZ’s Mr Feelgood

4) John Key will be missed by many. For a tribute from one of Key’s biggest supporters, see Mike Hosking’s John Key is the best Prime Minister of my lifetime

5) What will happen now? For the best overall discussion of which politicians will “seize this moment” and shine – English, Collins, Little, Peters, etc – see Tim Watkin’s excellent The call of the centre. He argues, “This is a rare moment where just about anything is possible.”

6) Why was Key so successful? One of the best analyses of his strengths is John Armstrong’s Leadership may be poisoned chalice for John Key’s successor. He argues that Key’s success arose out of two factors: “First, he was a great communicator who could charm people on every level… Most of all, he never suffered from one of the worst faults of politicians. He never talked down to anyone”; and “his pragmatism. He was an unrelenting believer that politics was the art of the possible. If it wasn’t possible then it didn’t happen. Full stop. More than that, he was willing to openly play fast and loose with National’s guiding principles if that was required to outflank the party’s opponents and capture ground which had traditionally been their stamping ground.”

7) Key’s legacy is uncertain. This is strongly argued in Giovanni Tiso’s excellent article, The man without a legacy. It’s a leftwing account, but one that’s very different from the usual critiques of Key. For an interesting bonus item with some similar themes, see Danyl Mclauchlan’s Reflections on Key

8) Key’s resignation was perfectly timed. Chris Trotter explains how Key has snookered National’s rightwing faction, and restricted the highly-damaging factional fighting that could have occurred if he had resigned in a different way – see: What a way to go! Some initial thoughts on John Key’s resignation

9) The rightwing faction of National don’t want Bill English. “The mood for change” has become the slogan of those on the right of the party who don’t want to just continue on a centrist road with English. Patrick Gower reports on those in the party who are keen on candidates like Judith Collins having a more prominent role – see: ‘Huge mood for change in National’ – MP

10) Key doesn’t want Judith Collins as his replacement, but can’t say that. Key’s diplomatic comments on Collins have been reported like this: “Judith Collins “could” have what it took to be prime minister, but “whether she is the right person to be the leader, that’s for others to decide”. She had a huge number of skills, was a good, decent person and he had supported her as a strong member of his team. He said her public persona could be different to the one behind the scenes” – see: PM’s regret: That flag referendum

11) The right of the party will remember John Key with less enthusiasm than most. For a rightwing critique of Key’s legacy, see Stuff’s John Key savaged by former National leader Don Brash for achieving ‘almost nothing of significance’. In this, Key predecessor gives him a rating of only 5 out of 10. For a bonus critique of Key from the right, see Peter Cresswell’s A can-kicking PM.

12) Bill English is likely to be the next PM, with Paula Bennett as his deputy. This is argued today by Rachel Smalley in: National’s likely new leaders – English & Bennett. Smalley also looks at the various other candidates – for instance, Judith Collins: “Would she make a good PM? Yes, she would. She’s experienced, she’s confident, she wants the job. If English wasn’t there, I think she’d be the front-runner.” On Amy Adams Smalley says: “Sound. Super smart. A very capable politician, but she’s too similar to English. Straight. Proper. Measured. You need a bit of sass in there.” But ultimately English will be PM, and he might surprise us: “I think you’d see quite a bit of movement under English on issues such as child poverty. He gets the economic implications, but I think he gets the social implications of child poverty and inequality as well. I also think he’ll raise the retirement age. I’ve questioned him on that issue time and again – and he tip-toes around it.” And for a bonus analysis of English’s policy inclinations, see Eric Crampton’s Prime Minister English?

13) Key’s economic legacy is mixed, at best. For an account of the PM’s impact on “wealth and incomes”, see Bernard Hickey’s John Key’s $400b legacy. For example, Hickey says “Mr Key’s legacy is sweetest for property owners, who saw the values of their homes rise NZ$400 billion to almost NZ$1 trillion on his watch”.

14) Key’s departure changes everything. The whole political landscape is changing with the PM’s resignation. Stacey Kirk details what it might mean for the main Opposition party – see: John Key is out – does that give Labour a clearer path into the Beehive? And for a bonus, see what it might mean for New Zealand First as well as the micro-parties of Act, United Future, and the Mana and Maori parties in Carrie Stoddart’s blog post: Gloves off election looming.

15) Key is the only PM to leave office of his own accord. David Farrar lists “how every New Zealand Prime Minister (since Seddon) has left office” in his blog post, Leaving on his terms. He shows how 11 were defeated at elections; 4 died in office; 4 were deposed by their party; 2 were defeated in Parliament; and 2 resigned for ill health. Farrar concludes: “So Key is the only Prime Minister in at least the last 100 years to have retired from the job on his terms, rather than get pushed out in some way.”

16) It’s going to be a strongly contested fight to be the new PM. For the most extensive coverage of this so far, see Audrey Young and Claire Trevett’s The race for Prime Minister gets crowded – It’s Bill English, Jonathan Coleman and now Judith Collins. The bonus item is Toby Manhire’s A beginner’s guide to the next prime minister of New Zealand

17) Disunity is finally erupting in what has been an extremely unified National caucus. Audrey Young details the factions and players in her article, Discontent stirs among National Party caucus after John key’s shocking resignation

18) Jonathan Coleman’s entry into the race for PM will surprise many. To read more on why he’s running, see the Herald’s There’s an appetite for change, says PM contender Jonathan Coleman. For a bonus item, see Guyon Espiner’s Listener interview with him from earlier in the year: Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman – interview

19) Judith Collins’ level of caucus support is hard to measure. But she does have some vocal supporters. For instance, Paul Henry says today that “Judith would get my vote” – see: John Key’s resignation fight will be a bloodbath. But Henry warns the contest will be ugly: “Make no mistake – there will be blood on the walls.”

20) John Key was never an easy politician for cartoonists to draw. But for a look at how they’re dealing with his departure, see my blog post, Cartoons about John Key’s resignation.

Today’s content

All items are contained in the attached PDF. Below are the links to the items online.

John Key resigns

John Armstrong (TVNZ): Leadership may be poisoned chalice for John Key’s successor

Tim Watkin (Pundit): The call of the centre

Richard Shaw (Stuff): The Year No-one Saw Anything Coming

Mike Hosking (Newstalk ZB): John Key is the best Prime Minister of my lifetime

Martin van Beynen (Stuff): John Key inspired confidence

Bryce Edwards (Herald): John Key’s calculated ‘hospital pass’ resignation

Herald: John Key’s resignation surprises political scientist

The Spinoff: David Slack, Morgan Godfery, David Seymour, Annabelle Lee and more on John Key’s resignation

Jared Nicoll (Stuff): Key’s legacy will be one of popular leadership without significant change, academics say

Giovanni Tiso (Overland): The man without a legacy

Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): What A Way To Go! Some Initial Thoughts On John Key’s Resignation

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): After 8 years of John Key, just 30 National MPs could select new PM

Maiki Sherman (Newshub): John Key resignation: Maiki Sherman with the contenders for the top job 

Carrie Stoddart (NZ Coop): Gloves off election looming

Bryan Gould: John Key Has Gone – Why?

Tracy Watkins and Vernon Small (Stuff): Key’s decision – how it played out

Your NZ: Key to the Kingdom

Frances Morton (Vice): What’s Behind Prime Minister John Key’s Shock Resignation?

Edwin Mitson (BusinessDesk): NZ retirement age in question with Key exit

Reuters: The patient English: strong contender for PM

Colin James (ODT): John Key checks out. The game has suddenly changed

Audrey Young (Herald): Discontent stirs among National Party caucus after John key’s shocking resignation

Jane Patterson (RNZ): Key’s resignation a game-changer for the 2017 election

Simon Wilson (RNZ): John’s gone: The end of NZ’s Mr Feelgood

Toby Manhire (Herald): John Key’s exit – He did it his way and nothing became him like the leaving

Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): National now in intensive care after New Zealand Prime Minister John Key’s resignation

Barry Soper, Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): National to consider new leader, though Collins only one talking

Dene Mackenzie (ODT): English well placed to convince colleagues he should be PM

Eileen Goodwin (ODT):Key sets up succession line

Herald Editorial: Successor to Key will have plenty on plate

RNZ: Top Billing? The National scrum begins

Southland Times (Stuff): Key always had an eye on the illuminated exit signs

Stacey Kirk (Stuff):John Key is out – does that give Labour a clearer path into the Beehive?

Claire Trevett (Herald): John Key marvels at his ‘dream run’ at the helm after resigning as Prime Minister

Claire Trevett (Herald): Marriage solid, health excellent, insists Prime Minister John Key following resignation

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The actual reason why Key has resigned

Isaac Davison (Herald): Opposition parties’ tributes for Key disguise excitement about election prospects

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Watch Simon Bridges and Maggie Barry to decide who is National’s next leader

Pete George (Your NZ): Key’s secret

The Civilian: John Key makes shock decision to resign in middle of the day, rather than at the end of the day

The Civilian: Bill English has yet to make a decision on leadership bid; has to talk it over with his pot plants

Ben Thomas (Stuff): John Key – the great re-assurer

Laila Harre (Daily Blog): What Key’s resignation means for Labour + the Greens

Danyl Mclauchlan (Dim Post): Reflections on Key

Eric Crampton (Offsetting Behaviour): Prime Minister English?

Greg Presland (Standard): John Key’s legacy

Audrey Young, Claire Trevett (Herald): NZ’s next Prime Minister: Looks like there will be a race

Stacey Kirk, Sam Sachdeva (Stuff): Jonathan Coleman hints at joining the race to be Prime Minister

Patrick Gower (Newshub) ‘Huge mood for change in National’ – MP

Herald: Key’s surprise exit creates uncertainty

RNZ: PM’s regret: That flag referendum

Stuff: John Key savaged by former National leader Don Brash for achieving ‘almost nothing of significance’

Chris Keall (NBR): National leadership: Will the Right challenge English? (paywalled)

Duncan Greive (Spinoff): Gower gasps and Hosking weeps: how TV news covered John Key’s resignation

RNZ:John Key’s $400b legacy

Kim Choe (Newshub): John Key was coy about resignation intentions when asked by Barack Obama

David Farrar (Kiwiblog):Leaving on his terms

Rachel Smalley (Newstalk ZB): National’s likely new leaders – English & Bennett

Peter Cresswell (Not PC): A can-kicking PM

The Daily Blog: The true legacy of John Key

Dave Kennedy (Local Bodies): John Key’s Real Legacy

Jo Moir (Stuff): National’s three support partners are all backing John Key’s endorsement of Bill English for PM

Kiwipolitico: Key exits right (on time).

Herald: There’s an appetite for change, says PM contender Jonathan Coleman

Audrey Young, Claire Trevett (Herald): The race for Prime Minister gets crowded – It’s Bill English, Jonathan Coleman and now Judith Collins

Herald: Bill English: Why I’m standing for Prime Minister

Brian Edwards: A Media Trainer Muses on John Key, Helen Clark and the Nightmare Prospect of New Zealand under Paula Bennett

Vernon Small (Stuff): Andrew Little finds more loving relationship with the media after John Key’s resignation

Paul Henry (Newshub): John Key’s resignation fight will be a bloodbath

Vernon Small (Stuff): Bill English is the overwhelming favourite to replace John Key in our new poll

John Roughan (Herald):John Key gave biographer a hint he could walk away

Laurel Stowell (Herald): John Key ‘an honorable man’ – Dame Tariana

Newshub: John Key resignation: ‘I’m not doing a comeback’

Story (Newshub): Story sits down with John Key following resignation

Jo Moir (Stuff): Judith Collins, Bill English and Jonathan Coleman are in the race to be Prime Minister

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Three standing for Leader and PM

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Dr Bryce Edwards is a political scientist and a lecturer in Politics.

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