He is not concerned about foreigners buying farms, houses or anything else. John Campbell did something rare in journalism and quite magnificent when he hosted the TV3 leaders' debate on Wednesday night. He let us see the admiration he has for those willing to endure that most personally harrowing branch of public service called politics.

Campbell didn't express it in as many words. He just kept thanking John Key and David Cunliffe for their enthusiasm and their care. But his face and the feeling in his voice said much more. It appeared he was talking particularly to Key.

This is a fair country and there is a growing realisation, I think, that what was done to him four weeks ago was unspeakable. When Campbell spoke of it at the end of the programme his words were elliptical.

A feature on Key in the Sydney Morning Herald last weekend opened with a quote from Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull about the impression he makes on those who meet him overseas. "Again and again," said Turnbull, "people say, 'What a pity he's not the leader of a bigger country. He's just so good.'"


Politics in Britain and the United States has an enviable dignity and class, particularly in their television debates. Their party leaders can make telling points against each other without the shouting contest that ours can become. Their best broadcasters ask penetrating questions, always with the respect that those who never have to ask for a vote owe those who submit themselves to the will of millions.

I wonder if Key would succeed in that sort of politics. He enjoys the schoolyard exchanges that break out in Parliament and doesn't realise they demean him. He is too quick to mix it in television debates too.

Watching him against Cunliffe is an interesting contrast of qualities. Cunliffe is easily the better speaker. He is clear, concise and forceful in making his points. When he is finished you know exactly what he said. Key's mind jumps ahead of his voice in unfinished themes, sudden detours, flights of ideas that lose their way or come to a light conclusion.

But he beats Cunliffe hands down. Key looks and sounds real, Cunliffe looks and sounds like he is performing.

I find I trust Key even when I don't agree with him. For what it is worth, I think Labour is right on capital gains tax, raising the superannuation age, putting cash surpluses into the Cullen fund and maybe we could raise the minimum wage a bit faster than National has done without causing unemployment.

National has no coherent answers in my view to house prices (it is not a shortage of houses) or the rising costs of pensions for the (often not) retired now the baby boom has reached 65.

If this election was just about those issues, I'd vote Labour as I have sometimes done, though never for a leader's "vision". Whenever a corporate executive or a politician claims "vision" I am seized with near certainty that it is going to be wrong.

John Key keeps saying in this election campaign, "we are on the cusp of something special". Every time he says this we wonder what it is. Some of us are getting impatient.


Reviewing this week's debate, Fran O'Sullivan said: "It was time to put some flesh on the bones and tell us what this exciting future means ... he didn't." Audrey Young wrote: "Some ad-man has told him [cusp of something special] will give voters hope. I think it sounds like empty clap-trap."

To me it sounds like Key is saying all that he can say on the subject. He has never claimed to see far ahead. He has a currency trader's sense for what is happening right now and what is likely to happen imminently.

He has said he thinks economic confidence has risen to a higher gear. He sensed it last year. New Zealanders realise at last they have a resilient economy. Other developed economies are still struggling to emerge from what they now call the Great Recession.

Our strength owes much to the previous Government and to late 20th century reformers, but presiding over it now, John Key is confidence personified. The world holds no fear for him. He has been there in his previous career and made a fortune from freely flowing finance. He is not even slightly concerned about foreigners buying farms, houses or anything else. He sees New Zealand wired to the world and integrated with its wealth. It's feeling good.