Island Life by David Slack

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Island Life: I have aspirations going forward

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  • Kent Parker,

    I think you're being negative. After three years with Brash it is a relief to hear this kind of stuff coming from National.

    As for specifics. What the!? He's only been in the job less than a day!

    Hawkes Bay • Since Nov 2006 • 36 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Wow, so Mr. Slack is shocked and horrified that Mr. Key is a quick study at the "flowers pretty, kittens nice' school of political speech-making. OK, so what were we all expecting here? Seriously - the 2008 manifesto, a Mark Latham-like fit of psychotic candour about what a pack of arseholes the National caucus is, a fatuous non-apoligetic apology for the Punic Wars?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report

  • David Slack,

    I think you're being negative.

    Perhaps I am. But he's reputedly been thinking about having the job for quite some time, and he's gone through two election campaigns in which he's been asked to articulate his vision.

    Moreover, he promised the speech would be something rather more than it proved to be.

    Devonport • Since Nov 2006 • 599 posts Report

  • David Slack,

    Craig, neither shocked nor horrified, just making sure the fact does not go unremarked, which is the tendency during the honeymoon period.

    Devonport • Since Nov 2006 • 599 posts Report

  • Richard Llewellyn,

    Heh - loved the duck-speak.

    Richard Llewellyn is looking forward to seeing how Mr Key goes in forming a more *inclusive* opposition, but is neither stirred nor shaken by the fact that his first speech is writ in large letters with a lite touch.

    He's got some post-Don fences to mend with large portions of the electorate, so he can't start off sounding like a complete policy wonk, he just needed to sound like a bloke who anyone/everyone could have a drink with.

    Honeymoons are supposed to involve sweet-talk, aren't they?

    Mt Albert • Since Nov 2006 • 399 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Honeymoons are supposed to involve sweet-talk, aren't they?

    Perhaps, but let's hope he waits a decent interval before graduating to some of the other stuff newlywed are supposed to get up to. :)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report

  • ed pointsman,

    Is it just me, or did anyone else who read the transcript of the speech and is ploughing their way through Hollow Men shudder as they worked their way down the page: all the 'buttons' or 'levers' were in place:

    * economy: don't scare the horses
    * maori: kiss and make up
    * environment: ditto with the tree-huggers

    Who wrote this stuff, Dale Carnegie?

    If you can fake sincerity, you have got it made

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 12 posts Report

  • simon g,

    A lightweight speech doesn‘t matter much, if it’s simply a political tactic. He probably got the balance about right - sending signals, while not saying anything specific and causing a row. Fair enough for day two.

    Much more intriguing is … does he actually have anything else to say? Was the absence of substance not a tactic, but because there’s nothing else there?

    Here’s the thing. John Key is a very unusual politician, in a parliamentary system. I actually can’t think of anyone like him, in NZ or overseas (feel free to put me straight on that). In presidential politics (the USA is an obvious example) you can be an ‘outsider’, with little experience or baggage, and run for the top job. Candidates sometimes do have no history of political activity.

    But in parliamentary democracies, you tend to work your way up. Even before you’re an MP, you’re in a union, a business group, a student organisation, the voluntary sector, a local council, etc. And along the way, your ideas are formed and revised.

    True, Don Brash became leader after only a short time in parliament. But he’d been leaving footprints for decades (Reserve Bank, East Coast Bays etc.). As did Clark, Shipley, Bolger … everybody that I can think of, in fact.

    Key got involved in politics in his 40’s. What did he do before then? Yes, I know, he was busy with a very successful career and raising a family. Good on him. But then ... one day, he decided to enter politics. Why? Did he toss a coin?

    For the first four decades of his life, what did John Key think about … you know, stuff? Apartheid? ANZUS? GST? MMP? School closures? Rates increases? What floated his political boat? What formed his worldview? And what did he do about it?

    It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t a National party member. There are plenty of other ways of making a statement. But did he join a pressure group, wave a placard, sit on a committee, stuff an envelope, write a grumpy letter to the editor - anything at all, ever? He’s obviously pretty smart, so he must have had a few thoughts about what was in his daily newspaper. But … what?

    We don’t know. It’s like he suddenly came down from Krypton, but overshot Kansas. And becomes Prime Minister of New Zealand instead.

    Does anybody else find this just a little strange?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1333 posts Report

  • Juha Saarinen,

    Look, we talked about this "going forward" thing... it's management-speak. For some reason, certain quarters of society have to be pseudoactive and "go forward" instead of speaking of the future.

    Do they have arsepirations going backwards too?

    Since Nov 2006 • 529 posts Report

  • DPF,

    As I have just commented on my blog, you give a very different speech on your third day as leader compared to your third month as Leader. David Slack of all people should know this.

    If John Key was announcing policies on Day Three it wouldn't say a lot for policy making process that it is now at he whim of the Leader.

    He gave some very clear indications of different policies in areas such as environment, but more importantly he talked about what values he has. Values are what Leaders should talk about initially. Polices follow.

    And the trick with the speeches of Clark and Key is cute, but you could do that with any two political speechs by being selective. Hell Churchill and Stalin probably. There's certainly portions in the Key speech Clark would never say, and it's not the end of the world that there were portions she would say.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 78 posts Report

  • Stephen Glaister,

    pick a number, John, any number and get specific

    Jesus, talk about an unreasonable demand! Has any politician anywhere ever (let alone in first/personal address) said anything of the sort?

    As it happens, Key mentioned his ideal income tax structure 19c/33c etc on Monday so I guess that affords almost as much guidance on ultimate "size of goverment" issues as Slack's preferred number, and certainly more than one gets from most leaders.

    And the harping on about the indirect quotation in the third person of

    On many occasions I have read in the media that John Key did a good job against Michael Cullen at the last election

    which Key nicely continues into a semi-joke about the gap between first and third person perspectives

    Well, I'm pleased today to have the opportunity to say a few words about what John Key stands for, because I know him rather better than most commentators.

    is pathetic. Such malevolence and smallness from Slack. Blogs are so revealing.

    Since Nov 2006 • 50 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia,


    Oh, come on... It's probably not just you - but I guess no matter who you are in political life, you better grow a thick enough skin to realise there's going to be people for whom you're damned if you, damned if you don't, and in the wrong regardless.

    simon g.:
    Well, I'd like to know too. But not in his first public speech less than 24 hours after becoming leader. I also think all party leaders - especially when their tenure is only measurable in hours not years - have to be very careful that their personal musings, or off the cuff opinions, don't end up being reported as policy. There is a lot of very serious, and contentious, policy work that needs to be done over the next two years; but it must not be seen (internally or externally) as driven by press release and speech notes from the leader's office. It's not only bad politics, but it seldom - if ever - leads to good public policy.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report

  • Yamis,

    Sign of the times really and another step towards the middle ground.

    MMP was worked out by Labour a lot quicker than National and now National have cottoned on. It's a make friends system, not enemies because no party is going to get more than 50% of the vote in NZ anytime soon.

    I will think about voting for National if hell freezes over, but decide not to in the end. But I was quite impressed with how Key could speak for two minutes straight on Campbell Live with no pauses, no stutters, no ums or aghs and in coherent sentences even if it was the warm touchy feely nothingness that people have mentioned. It reminds me of being at Brixton Academy a few years back listening to Henry Rollins do spoken word gig. He mentioned to the audience that it must be cool having a prime minister that could actually speak and make sense (comparing him to Bush who was making people cringe and laugh at his inability to do the same). People in the audience groaned a bit at the 'complement' to Blair but the point was fair, that somebody who can speak clearly and well and looks the part can go an awful long way to convincing people who don't do much listening that they are the person for the job. We must see it everyday at work, on TV, in the papers that if people say things loud enough, often enough or else look nice then they get to positions they might not otherwise deserve to be in.

    I suspect there is more to Key than meets the eye (there better be for the blue teams sake) but at the same time, you would have thought that if he was strong on many issues we would have heard of it by now. I have a nagging feeling that he is going to go the middle ground on policy for a while but on the back of criticism from nat supporters and followers for being to centrist and going away from traditional right wing goals of shafting the poor and weak while high fiving each other he will try taking a harder line on a couple of issues eventually which may work or be the downfall of the Nats once again.

    What an appalling rant. I'm off to bed.

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report

  • Cushla McKinney,

    What struck me most when I heard him talking with Kathryn Ryan this morning is how consumate his "everyman' facade is. He seems to be promising to do and be everything-maintain support for those less fortunate (he's a state-house child after all), decease taxes for most New Zealanders by vastly stretching tax thresholds, improve the health service, tackle climate change, keep state assets rather than sell them...all very heartwarming and reassuring and it would be nice to think he could deliver. Trouble is I can't help feeling it's all a little *too* picture perfect. Don may be gone, but those who supported his vision remain and it's what he *didn't* left me checking my back for signs of an ambush.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 14 posts Report

  • Manakura,

    I hate to admit it but I find myself agreeing with Stephen, there is a measure of preconceived judgement of Key here that comes across as a bit reactionary. My question to David Slack, why did you quote Key selectively in a manner thats showed him in a negative light, I hope you were in hurry rather than behaving like a hack? (That was a genuine question btw).

    Cushla, every politician tries to present themselves as an everyman, or everywoman. Remember it is a popularity contest. Lets just wait until we hear the policy details and/or whether they manage to stick to it if given the chance to govern. It really is a bit churlish to accuse Key of dissembling at this early stage. A bit like rubbishing a recently released political tome without reading wouldn't you agree Craig?

    And no I am not a National supporter: being an egalitarian minded person I loathe all parts of the political spectrum equally. Some parts of it are more equal in this respect than other, meaning the red and blue sections.

    Whaingāroa • Since Nov 2006 • 134 posts Report

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    See, if Robyn were going to transcribe that quote (something she can claim to have professional experience in doing), she'd be inclined to punctuate it like this:

    On many occasions I have read in the media that, "John Key did a good job against Michael Cullen at the last election," that, "John Key knows his stuff on finance," but that, "No one knows what John Key really stands for."

    But Robyn hasn't heard him speak it aloud, so she don't know how it was read out and where emphasis was placed. It could go either way, but Robyn thinks this wasn't necessarily a case of John Key talking in the third person.

    Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report

  • stephen walker,

    a direct quotation doesn't have a "that" before it.
    so these phrases wouldn't be transcribed in the way you suggest. or am i confusing basic grammatical rules here?

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 646 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia,

    manakura wrote:
    It really is a bit churlish to accuse Key of dissembling at this early stage. A bit like rubbishing a recently released political tome without reading wouldn't you agree Craig?

    No, I posed some some legitimate (but entirely debatable, of course) questions about the book - which I freely admitted I haven't read - based on his previous form and own public statements. Now I expressed scpeticism about the (as Kathryn Ryan) "thesis" nature of the book, and if I was selectively quoting the book to prove a thesis of my how, I'd be a damn sight more than 'churlish'. Outright hypocritical would be closer to the mark; and I'd like to think that whatever by character flaws are (and they're legion) two-faced hackery isn't among them.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report

  • Kent Parker,

    The problerm, David S, with the leader espousing policy at this stage, in addition to DPF's reminder that policy requires blood, sweat, tears and many caucus meetings (under Key's supervision), in the age of MMP, a leader, rather than being policy and ideology focused (like Brash) is better to simply be a good manager (like Clark). So if Key can wheedle and charm all his fractious team mates into a coherent whole, then that is all he needs to do. On top of that charming a few small parties into joining up, and voila!

    There's more to Government than policy. We have enough laws and that is generally what most policy produces. We have pretty much the policies we need, all that is required is a little twiddling here and there. If we partially kneecap our govt by having MMP, we cannot then expect them to turn around and change the world through some hardened policy initiative (eg Rogernomics, Think Big).

    So, I am happy there is no policy at this stage. I want to see a leader who is human and can respond to emerging situations, who looks good, gets on with people and gets on with the job. The policy should come from the individual ministers anyway and less focus on the leader. Hopefully Key, unlike Clark or Brash, will share the limelight. If he doesn't then I might be disappointed. We don't need a personality cult.

    Hawkes Bay • Since Nov 2006 • 36 posts Report

  • David Slack,

    My opening remarks were a throwaway observation about this growing tendency for politicians to speak of themselves in the third person. I’ll concede I could have treated him more fairly, given that his language suggests he sees the humour in it.

    I don’t resile from what was the thrust of my criticism though: this is a speech that fails to offer what he told us it would.

    Of course your first speech as leader will necessarily be broad, but if it is so broad and general that it fails to mark out your position in any clearly definable way (nor in any way that distinguishes your position from that of the Prime Minister you wish to replace), then the question: “what does John Key stand for” remains unanswered.

    Devonport • Since Nov 2006 • 599 posts Report

  • Cushla McKinney,

    Dear Manakura,
    I'm not accusing John Key of anything, in fact I'd very much like to believe him. I really was impressed by his ability to project a moderate line that will probably appeal to a lot of people. My suspicion is founded on a scepticism that extends to politicians in general. You are right that it is a popularity contest, but that it is the policy that counts, and my experience is that (as the old saying goes) "fine words butter no parsnips" The better the rhetoric, the more suspicious I get, and this goes for parties on *both* sides of the fence.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 14 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Kent Parker wrote:
    , in the age of MMP, a leader, rather than being policy and ideology focused (like Brash) is better to simply be a good manager (like Clark).

    Well, up to a point. I think the semantic problem there is that 'ideology' has a pretty innocuous definition ("a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture b : a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture c : the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program" - Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary), but comes with some pretty ugly connotations. You know how political cant works: I have principles and values, you have an 'ideology'. I have policies, you have an 'agenda' - preferably a hidden one. I have supporters, you are 'beholden to special interests". Quack quack quack, as our host might say. :)

    It's pure semantic flummery of anyone in politics - let alone Parliament - to pretend they don't have an ideology, in the proper sense of the word. At least, I hope so because Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four O'Brien expresses what with terrifying clarity what may well happen when politics becomes nothing more than pure 'management' :-

    The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake…We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. power exercised for its own sake, the object of power is power.

    Interesting to compare this is Orwell's 1946 essay/reivew of James Burnham's __The Managerial Revolution

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report

  • Kent Parker,

    Well, as we all know, power ultimately corrupts. That's why we have a democracy which enables us to vote leaders out. Key may be fresh faced and honest looking now, but in 10 years time we will probably want rid of him too.

    I think that the leader needs to focus on management and not policy just like a school prinicpal focuses on management and not teaching.

    Hawkes Bay • Since Nov 2006 • 36 posts Report

  • Kent Parker,

    I also think, Craig, that we are moving into a post-ideological era. We have seen what strong ideologies like communism and national socialism can do and of course the Muslims are held back by their ideology. In a tolerant, plural society any ideology can become a hindrance, something that I think Brash found, with his policy on Maori, which immediately alienated 20% of the electorate and then the policy on tax cuts which probably removed another 20%. Too much specific policy and by day three you are only talking to 60% of the electorate. By the time you've outlined all your very 'specific' policies, there is only 40% of the electorate left.

    So what is the point of being specific?

    It's better to get into govt on a general mandate, put out policy ideas developed with material from the relevant ministries and caucus, and then listen to the polls, which are now a very important adjunct to elections.

    Hawkes Bay • Since Nov 2006 • 36 posts Report

  • larryq,

    Of course it was the normal BS political speech, you can't tell me you expected anything different. You must have written your share of quacking speeches DS? Who the hell really listens to them anyway...although I'll never forget that Mike Moore election night speech.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 24 posts Report

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