John Key made his own rules, generally got away with it

EDITORIAL

One of the most mercurial careers in New Zealand politics ended yesterday with the valedictory speech by John Key, a man who attracted extremes of admiration and dislike bordering on hatred. Looked at now, Key’s rise was meteoric and unprecedented for this country.

Elected in 2002 when National suffered its worst-ever defeat, he was on the front bench by 2006 and led the party to victory in 2008. Amazingly he has spent more than half his 15 years in Parliament as prime minister.

His exit was even more sudden. Expected to lead the party towards a fourth term, he instead stood down saying he had nothing left in the tank.

Key’s back story is also remarkable. Raised in a state house in Christchurch, he went on to become head of global foreign exchange for Merrill Lynch.

In the process he made himself independently wealthy — and in many ways he transferred his management talents, instincts and wheeler-dealer persona over to Parliament. At times he seemed to be making instant decisions of the type his career in finance depended on.

Controversy was never far from Key. Lingering memories include the famous cup of tea with ACT leader John Banks, his televised clash with Kim Dotcom and fallout from ponytail pulling. A three-way handshake with Richie McCaw and the IRB chairman after New Zealand’s 2011 Rugby World Cup win was a classic.

Key seemed to have an infallible instinct for what New Zealanders were thinking, and was prepared to shift his views when necessary. The biggest example of that was reaching a compromise with Helen Clark over the so-called anti-smacking legislation.

Labour’s attempts to smear “Teflon John” always seemed to fall wide of the mark and the public seemed ready to forgive things like rash comments on talkback radio. His biggest failure was probably the effort to change the country’s flag.

John Key was in many ways a one-off — an atypical politician who made his own rules and generally got away with it. It was a great ride while it lasted.

One of the most mercurial careers in New Zealand politics ended yesterday with the valedictory speech by John Key, a man who attracted extremes of admiration and dislike bordering on hatred. Looked at now, Key’s rise was meteoric and unprecedented for this country.

Elected in 2002 when National suffered its worst-ever defeat, he was on the front bench by 2006 and led the party to victory in 2008. Amazingly he has spent more than half his 15 years in Parliament as prime minister.

His exit was even more sudden. Expected to lead the party towards a fourth term, he instead stood down saying he had nothing left in the tank.

Key’s back story is also remarkable. Raised in a state house in Christchurch, he went on to become head of global foreign exchange for Merrill Lynch.

In the process he made himself independently wealthy — and in many ways he transferred his management talents, instincts and wheeler-dealer persona over to Parliament. At times he seemed to be making instant decisions of the type his career in finance depended on.

Controversy was never far from Key. Lingering memories include the famous cup of tea with ACT leader John Banks, his televised clash with Kim Dotcom and fallout from ponytail pulling. A three-way handshake with Richie McCaw and the IRB chairman after New Zealand’s 2011 Rugby World Cup win was a classic.

Key seemed to have an infallible instinct for what New Zealanders were thinking, and was prepared to shift his views when necessary. The biggest example of that was reaching a compromise with Helen Clark over the so-called anti-smacking legislation.

Labour’s attempts to smear “Teflon John” always seemed to fall wide of the mark and the public seemed ready to forgive things like rash comments on talkback radio. His biggest failure was probably the effort to change the country’s flag.

John Key was in many ways a one-off — an atypical politician who made his own rules and generally got away with it. It was a great ride while it lasted.

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