Sunday, July 27, 2008

NZ HERALD: John Key-Part two

3:00PM Saturday July 26, 2008By Carroll du Chateau, Paula Oliver and Eugene Bingham

Key giving his State of the Nation speech this year. Photo / Martin Sykes

Part One of the John Key story
John Key in photos
John Key in his own words
Parliament's $50m MP
'I'm more liberal than I look'
John Key Timeline

For someone whose career had been a series of champagne glass-chinking highs, John Key's first day in Parliament was a shock. Flushed with his victory in Helensville, he was almost jumping out of his skin at the chance to get started on the next part of his life plan. The first day of his journey to be Prime Minister.

And he walked into a blood bath.

The country had been brutal in its judgment of National in 2002, its support on polling day collapsing to 20.9 per cent, the 66-year-old party's worst-ever election result.

Amid the carnage, Key had been the bright spot. Auckland's Westies had reacted well to the new face with its big smile and a man willing to roll up his sleeves and hammer together his own hoardings. As it had earlier in his life, Key's self-confidence and willingness had paid off, and he won the Helensville seat by 1705 votes.

On the Tuesday morning following the election, Key flew to Wellington for his first caucus meeting. "I went in feeling euphoric and left feeling depressed," he recalls.

The departing MPs, some retiring, many defeated, stepped up to receive their farewell gift (a silver tray), said their farewells, and left. The survivors and the few newcomers - Key, Don Brash, Judith Collins, Brian Connell and Sandra Goudie - huddled together.

It was a sober introduction to Parliamentary life for this retired merchant banker. Last week, in part one of this project, we told his background story, the steps he took to reach Parliament. This week we examine Key's rise to the top of the party and explore what he stands for.

Key achieved his goal of getting elected, even as voters mauled his party. His longer term ambition to be Prime Minister is now within reach. But which John Key will emerge? The centrist figure who has embraced so many existing policies that his critics label "Labour-lite"; or the career banker and money-man, who linked fast economic growth with fewer holidays for workers (two weeks' annual leave, in fact), said he could not see any reason to own Air New Zealand, and accused some DPB mothers of "breeding for business".

In a little more than three months, New Zealanders will know if Key occupies the Beehive. The bigger question is will they know what to expect from him? In this, the second part of our far-reaching examination of the 46-year-old, we push past the window dressing to reveal what he believes in and how he operates.

We have read hundreds of Key's speeches, trawled through the Parliamentary records of his questions to ministers, and pored over interview transcripts dating back to the start of his political career. As well, we have interviewed dozens of MPs, including those from other parties in an attempt to glean as full a picture as possible. Those interviews are among about 100 we have now undertaken as part of this project.

Related Political Animal reading

Part One of the John Key story

View as a single page

c Political Animal 2008

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