• Blow for Labour as big business gets behind PM

• 97 percent of CEOs polled in Herald survey back him to win

• Cunliffe has struggled to make an impact

• But Dirty Politics has tarnished Brand Key

National's John Key would be a shoo-in for Prime Minister if that decision was up to the nation's executive suites and boardrooms alone.

Some 97 per cent of chief executives who responded to the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom Election 2014 Survey prefer Key to be prime minister again after the September 20 election. Just two per cent want to see Labour challenger David Cunliffe knock Key off his perch.

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In every metric ranging from leadership, through to trust and courage, the CEOs rated Key above Cunliffe - even while they acknowledged the impact during the election campaign of the Dirty Politics revelations had tarnished "Brand Key".


Overwhelmingly, the 112 chief executives who responded to the 2014 survey want National back in business, ideally with the same bunch of political support partners: the Maori Party, United Future and Act.

They like the united front that Key as the nation's cheerleader and Bill English as finance minister have presented for the past six years in government.

"The PM is a proven performer who is recognised as a world-class political leader," says Deloitte chief executive Thomas Pippos.

"The consistent opinion polls are no fluke," adds Forsyth Barr's Neil Paviour-Smith. "The political leadership has been superb at a difficult time for the country post-GFC and earthquakes."

Confidence is overwhelmingly positive in this year's survey taken in association with BusinessNZ, whose chief executive Phil O'Reilly said Key's biggest challenge if re-elected as prime minister was to ensure New Zealand was set on a path where 4 per cent growth "is the new normal."

In this environment it might seem difficult for Labour leader David Cunliffe and his able finance spokesman David Parker to make headway in the final 10 days to the election. But this is MMP politics.

Having the most party votes on the night may yet prove not to be enough when it comes to cobbling enough seats in parliament to form a government.

As the third Labour leader in three years, Cunliffe has struggled to make an impact with the business community. "I sometimes find it difficult to reconcile David's Pleasant Point background, his career at Foreign Affairs and a global consultancy firm, contrasted with the apparent union support within the Labour Party," says O'Reilly. "Nevertheless I think he has the capacity to become a prime minister."

Others like Z Energy's Mike Bennett said Cunliffe had credibly filled the role of Opposition leader in what has been a challenging environment. Another CEO praised him as a "courageous, high integrity individual - very engaging on a one-to-one basis but struggling to persuade the electorate with a vision and very vulnerable to coalition demands of minor partners."

Key issues for the PM to address

"If elected for a third term, John Key needs to address some of the tougher issues which would improve NZ's "long tail" of liabilities - such as domestic purposes benefits and superannuation.

"I think he has balanced extremely well the requirement to manage the economy post-GFC with ensuring social welfare protection is still in place for those in need. Bill English has been outstanding in the Minister of Finance role and you would want to see that partnership maintained.

"The performance of the health sector has been exemplary under Tony Ryall and Key will need to make sure that momentum is maintained under a new minister.

"Although education outcomes have generally been good, the current model is failing many Maori and Pacific Island children. That needs to be addressed and performance-based pay for teachers needs to be monstered through.

"There is growing disquiet about the rising inequality of wealth and income and ensuring our education system provides the greatest opportunity for all our young people.
"I think if National is successful, Key will have to think carefully about the leadership of his cabinet.

In my executive and governance experience, arrogance almost always leads to very bad outcomes. Key is the antithesis of arrogance, but some other ministers have failed to follow his lead on that front. He has also lost quite a lot of talent - Simon Power, Katherine Rich, Ryall, Chris Tremain. It will be interesting to see the performance of the rest of the team in the next three years."
Energy sector chairman.

Opposing factors

It's hard for David Cunliffe to stand out against a formidable opponent but aspects of policy around savings, retirement, tax policy, investment and infrastructure are encouraging although offset by less appealing micro-policy such as energy policy.
David McLean, Westpac.
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