Garth George: Can charismatic Key do it again?

By Garth George

Garth George
Garth George

What is it about John Key that lets him develop personal relationships with heads of state?

How come our Prime Minister gets to spend three or four hours on a golf course in Hawaii with President Barak Obama, arguably the most powerful national leader in the world, with only his son and a solitary aide in the party?

And this only a few months after the Key family spent a weekend at Balmoral, during which he dined and had a personal audience with the Queen and attended a church service with the royal family.

While a former New Zealand Prime Minister may have visited the Queen at home, I can recall none who has been made so intimately welcome by an American President.

Our cartoonists treated both occasions with their usual cynical and demeaning scribbles, and little else seemed to be made of Mr Key's golf round last week.

Yet it seems to me that to have Mr Obama pretty much to himself for several hours, without all the usual advisers, secretaries and media scrums crowding around, provided a significant opportunity for the two men to get to know each other personally - and that can be no bad thing in a world growing smaller by the day.

It must have something to do with the fact that Mr Key is the most consistently popular Prime Minister I can recall, and my personal recollections go back to Sir Sidney Holland in the 1950s.

It seems Mr Key's charisma (for want of a better word) extends far beyond the man and woman in the street to the loftiest levels of international power.

And that's one of the things that will make this year more interesting.

Yes, it's a general election year and while part of me wants to take off overseas for the duration, the political part of me insists that I stay at home and suffer through yet another one.

Since my father was a professional political organiser for the three Southland electorates, I was brought up in a political household and was familiar with many of the National members and ministers who were part of the Holland and Holyoake administrations - Ralph Hanan, Tom Macdonald, Brian Talboys, Gordon Grieve and many of their contemporaries.

Thus you can understand that on the day I voted Labour for the first and only time in my life, to get rid of Jenny Shipley, Ruth Richardson and Co, I felt the heat of my father's ashes glowing all the way from their niche in a Christchurch cemetery.

But I digress. The political blogosphere is already churning out election-year predictions by the tens of thousands of words and every possible outcome is being canvassed.

Of all of them, I reckon Scoop columnist Gordon Campbell puts his finger right on it when he writes that "in 2014 we are going to be hearing less about whether a centre-left coalition or a centre-right coalition might have the better plan to meet our current and future needs - and a lot more about how scary those weirdo junior partners may be".

That's my main concern too. Russel Norman's (he's an Australian, after all) Greens on the far left and Colin Craig's Conservatives on the far right are enough to give any politically aware elector a dose of the collywobbles.

They are both highly dangerous, and I don't really care which major party gets enough votes to form a coalition as long as neither the bright-red Greens nor the bright-blue Conservatives have any part of it. Go, Winston!

And as for John Key, will his charm carry National back into power, in spite of doubts about his party's policies?

It did last time.
Garth George is a veteran newspaper journalist, retired and living in Rotorua.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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