A good day for a cunning Prime Minister

by Jake Quinn

John Key is full of surprises. His decision to call the 2011 Election Day, for 26 November, so far in advance is out of character in recent New Zealand history and for it he will draw the worthy praise of the country’s political commentariate.

His other decision today however, to dig his heels in and give oxygen to the ‘NZ PM says Liz Hurley is hot’ story, which annoys the hell out of feminists and liberal academic types and has already gathered international media attention, would, one would have thought, be seen as foolish politics… But not for John Key.

Let me begin by explaining that Mr Key is not an ordinary bloke. He’s not just like “you or me” or your buddies down at the TAB. (To be fair this comparison is slightly ludicrous as we as political bloggers and blog readers are most likely to be educated elites of one stripe or another who’ve probably not visited a TAB since the last time we needed to use a bathroom in Waipukurau – after all we can always place our bets online).

By New Zealand standards Mr Key is an incredibly successful businessman, worth many tens of millions of dollars. More money than any of us could ever dream of obtaining in one lifetime.

Mr Key does not – has not – since his childhood days and perhaps a few months “slumming it” as a student, experienced the strife of an unpaid bill, a mortgage payment that cannot be met, a school uniform cost that blows the month’s disposable income, or the tyranny of taking on the chin the abuse of an employer or boss because you simply cannot afford to risk your job by standing up to them, even when they thoroughly deserve it.

Not that there is anything wrong with success, don’t get me wrong. If Key’s had been any business other than the at times counterproductive practice of financial market manipulation and currency hedging I’d be full of praise for the guy.

But I’ve got family friends who’ve made their impressive fortunes designing cattle drench guns, high-tech dairy factories or who’ve made medical and scientific discoveries which save and better people’s lives. I suggest these, unlike Key’s, are kiwi success stories to be truly celebrated.

Thus, Key’s number one strategy as a political operative must be to appear, to the greatest degree possible, as the “common man”. Without this he’s susceptible to being thought a “rich-prick” who wouldn’t know a thing about what “real kiwis” deal with in their day-to-day lives.

This is where hot chicks, the All Blacks, BBQs, cold beers and the mangling of his vowels can be used to marvellous effect.  By appealing to these symbols of manly iconic kiwiness, John Key, despite his huge wealth and professional background, can be the everyman.

Most red-blooded heterosexual males in New Zealand would agree that Liz Hurley and Jessica Alba are hot. Of course they are. But that’s not the point.

When John Key says they are middle-of-the-road swing voting New Zealanders are also acutely reminded of the differences between Helen Clark’s Labour-led government and the current one. It’s a strong symbolic – almost subliminal – reminder that Key is the change that more than a million New Zealanders voted for in 2008.

It’s a stark reminder to the electorate that after the 9 years of competent, technocratic, although in the end “politically correct”, leadership under Labour, that the new guy in town is here to stay, that he’s got more to offer and, adding another tantalising bonus, that this vision is now 100% Rt Hon Winston Peter’s free.

It’s a clever package of subtle messages designed to make Mr and Mrs Waitakere man tick the blue box again – and none of it has got a scrap of anything to do with policy. This is visceral personality politics at its purest and my bet, unfortunately, is that it will work.