John Key Does a Nico Rosberg!

Not long after I wrote about the end of the 2016 F1 season, World Driver’s Champion Nico Rosberg announced his retirement from F1, to the shock of fans and media mouthpieces the world over. I can sympathise with his situation; Mercedes may lose their advantage in 2017 and the strained relationship with childhood friend and team mate Lewis Hamilton will be in his mind. As he has said himself, he has achieved what he wanted to do in F1 and now is a great time to pursue other interests.

Today was shaping up to be interesting enough in the political world where the fascists were kept away from the Austrian presidency and Matteo Renzi resigned as promised following the “no” vote in the Italian constitutional referendum. The real surprise took place here in New Zealand, where John Key announced his resignation as Prime Minister.

The official line seems to be a combination of family commitments and boredom. I know I would get bored of winning. Given his media-assisted popularity, he was in no danger of losing public support any time soon. There is plenty of speculation surrounding ulterior motives that may have prompted his resignation; such as an impending economic crash or political scandal, or National party in-fighting.

Economic woes pose a serious threat to any sitting government. The biggest issue on the horizon is the property bubble which has trapped National into inaction. Aucklanders get to pretend that they are wealthy as prices soar as a result of overseas and domestic demand, while housing supply is restricted by skills shortages and the failure of the market to provide (and the government’s refusal to intervene). The government has no incentive to restrict overseas investment or act to increase supply while “middle” New Zealand smugly watches the “value” of their properties increase. The bigger the bubble gets, the harder the crash. So long as National is not in government when this happens, Key sees no problem. The speculation is that Key could jump now before disaster strikes.

National party in-fighting has always existed, but Key has managed to keep a lid on it. Plus the media use in-fighting as a means to bash the Labour party, so keeping the National party backbench headbangers in line is critical. Especially since Key has pursued a softer approach than the far-right faction of the National party would prefer. Examples of this include retaining Labour policies such as Working For Families* and interest free student loans**. This in part helps explain his high polling numbers. The moment that National tries to pursue an extreme-right policy agenda is the moment that they lose their appeal to much of the electorate. It also gives Labour the point of difference that they so desperately need.

It could also be the precursor for forming a coalition with NZ First following the next election. Winston Peters (Kiwi Farage) detests Key who attacked him over the Glenn affair (2008) and then made disrespectful comments about NZ First voters during his “cup of tea” with archbigot John Banks (2011). For Peters to go with National, it has been presumed that the removal of Key would be one of his conditions. It would make more sense to replace Peters, but then again he has compared himself to Konrad Adenauer (warning: NZ Herald), so he may hang around for a few more terms.

Mercedes have a range of possibilities of high-quality drivers to replace Rosberg: Vettel, Alonso, Bottas and (my pick) Wehrlein. So what about Key’s replacements? They don’t look so flash. The media have been talking up several options, I will briefly summarise them below:

  • Bill English: Uncharismatic bigot. Led National to disaster in 2002. Redeemed himself in the eyes of the Very Serious Media People as Minister of Finance, but I think he’s done a poor job. 4/10 would love to see him fail again.
  • Judith Collins. I remember sitting in her seat during a special guided tour of parliament by my local MP when I was 10 years old. She represents the extreme-right faction of the National party and is known for much ado about nothing and corruption.
  • Gerry Brownlee: Embarrassing bigot. Has had a heavy-handed approach with the Christchurch earthquake recovery and does dumb stuff like insult Finland and breach airport security.
  • Steven Joyce. The least worst option. Unencumbered by the extreme right-wing views of other leadership contenders, Joyce would follow the Key model most closely. I am impressed by his high talk about science and innovation, but his neoliberal approach means that government policy falls short of what is required.
  • Paula Bennett. Possibly the most media friendly, but already highly unpopular for perceived hypocrisy over her role in the dismantling of the welfare state. Staggeringly ineffective as climate change minister***.
  • Amy Adams. Unknown to the public at large, but talked up by the media anyway. Has had controversy with a potential conflict of interest regarding irrigation schemes in Canterbury. I also spoke to her at a university Clubs Day event this February and asked her about her Prime Ministerial ambitions. She said no, but circumstances always modify rules.

This could be an opportunity for the left-bloc to win the next election. With Labour in-fighting under control and an MOU with the Greens and similar economic views to NZF, a strong three-party coalition should be easily possible. Their collective polling should rise given the low quality of Key’s replacements. Of course, I’m not confident yet that the left can win the next election; NZ 2014, UK 2015 and USA 2016 have left me dizzingly cynical. But with Key on his way out, National have lost their strongest asset. It’s anyone’s game in 2017!

*Left-wing purists berate this policy as it is in effect a subsidy for employers who are too shit to pay their staff a decent wage. But to cut it would harm ordinary families. Rock, meet hard place.

**Left-wing purists would prefer no student loans and no tuition fees at all. We may head in that direction if the opposition policies are to be believed. And I’m pretty sure that’s what conservatives mean when they want to take us back to the 1950s, right? /sarc

***Bring back Simon Upton!

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