Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

John Key and Things That Come Out Wrong

June 27th, 2008

By Gordon Campbell

The “ we’re a country which came peacefully together” account of New Zealand’s march to nationhood that John Key delivered yesterday on Newztalk ZB was the latest example of what’s becoming a pattern. First we have the gaffe, then everyone else’s startled/shocked response, then the Key double-take, followed by the “ I was misquoted/taken out of context’ strategy. It is a quite surprising trait in someone with his background. Lord help the financial markets if his communications to staff at Merrill Lynch were as prone to WTF moments as the glitches in his political utterances.

Interesting trait, though. We know so little about Key that these slip-ups are fascinating, since they offer us glimpses into the brain behind the smiley face. In most of his gaffes, the central point he is trying to make is not the problem. Its usually pretty obvious what he’s trying to say, and whether one disagrees or not, the point is usually a coherent one. The problem lies in what happens next. It is as if his brain is an FM radio that goes off station.

The other puzzling thing is that Key seems to have no awareness that things are going somewhat awry He doesn’t seem to have a ‘ now, that didn’t quite come out right’ internal monitor. It is only after a few hours and once things have hit the fan, that the clarification engine clanks into gear. It must make for an interesting life for Key’s media term – they must never be quite sure just when the boss is going to pull the pin, and bite down on the grenade.

Lets count up some of the examples.

1. In October 2007, Key announced the war in Iraq is over :

“Frankly the war in Iraq is over, “ Key told RNZ. “The war was over in a very short period of time and you’ve now got a situation where the main coalition forces are looking to withdraw their efforts out of Iraq.”

Now, whatever he was trying to say I don’t think Key meant that the fighting had stopped in Iraq and everyone was going home because peace had broken out. His first point – let’s call it the Start Button – was that questions about whether he would or wouldn’t have lent NZ troops to the March 2003 invasion were now passé, because the invasion-related fighting was over pretty quickly, and long ago at that.

Then to re-inforce that line, he leaps to an almost unrelated bit of bogus re-inforcement – namely, that many countries that did send troops are now bringing the troops home. So…in his mind, that makes the question doubly irrelevant. It was long ago, the initial fighting bit decision thing is sort of over, coalition troops are coming home, for God’s sake let’s change the subject.

Result : a disastrous scramble of arguments and timeframes. He is also of course, quite wrong in implying there’s no issue here. There’s still a question to be answered – coherently we hope next time. Does John Key think New Zealand should have been part of the coalition of the willing in 2003 ? And the reason why that is not a hypothetical question is that there is evidence that Israel and the US have spent the last fortnight practicing for a strike on Iran.

Does our possible next Prime Minister think a military strike against Iran’s nuclear capacity would be a wise and justified action – and would he commit New Zealand troops to an attack on Iran or to its aftermath?


2. The “love to see wages drop” comment to the Bay Report last December .

Again the same sequence : John Key made comments, a furore ensued, he tried to revise/clarify, the National Party contacted the newspaper and – despite some dissension among staff – the Bay Report did its own double take and issued this retraction :

“An article published on December 20 may have left readers with the impression that National Party leader John Key wanted a drop in New Zealand wages. …From an examination of a transcript of the interview and the context of the comments by Mr Key in relation to the loss of skilled workers from New Zealand to Australia, the Bay Report now accepts that was not intended and that impression would be incorrect.” APN’s chief executive, Martin Simons, confirmed the National Party had approached the Bay Report’s editor and company management asking for the context of the quote to be clarified.

“The approach was not in the form of a demand and no other requests were made,” he said. Mr Key has said he could not remember exactly what he said…. but it was not a reference to wages in New Zealand dropping because National’s consistent policy was that wages and standards of living should be increased. [Except of course, when the Employment Contracts Act was serving as a mechanism for cutting labour costs, and deliberately eroding union ability to deliver wage hikes.]

An interesting footnote to the media accounts of the Bay Report retraction was that Key’s media team seemingly took a while to get their story straight : “ Mr Key’s reported comment was never satisfactorily explained by National Party spokesmen. It was suggested he had been referring to wages in Australia, or that it was a flippant remark.”

3. Hat-tip to The Standard blog for recalling a few other examples. My long time favourite : Key claiming not to remember what side of the Springbok tour protests he was on. The clips can be heard here

Since Key says he would have gone to the games if he could have afforded it, we can probably hazard a pretty good guess as where John Key, age 20, stood on this issue during his first year at varsity. Why he doesn’t say so ? How many votes, 27 years later, still ride on this one? The other thing about the exchanges is that the original questioner asked this question “ Were you for or against the Springbok tour ? “

Later though, when John Campbell follows up on the topic, Key changes the script and tries to give himself a Jesuitical bit of wiggle room : “ The question they asked was whether I supported them coming. See ? You’ve got to get the question right.” Indeed you do. This kind of evasiveness almost makes one nostalgic for the Winston Peters head-on school of historical revisionism.

For a recent case of the Key ‘look at the question ‘ approach, here’s an example I gave in another context on Scoop yesterday. It is so similar in methodology – claim the question back then was different, and hope no one has the tape – to the Springbok tour example, it bears repeating :

‘ Key in mid – 2005, when speaking in the House about the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill. said : “The impact of the Kyoto Protocol, even if one believes in global warming—and I am somewhat suspicious of it—is that we will see billions and billions of dollars poured into fixing something that we are not even sure is a problem. Even if it is a problem, it will be delayed for about 6 years. Then it will hit the world in 2096 instead of 2102, or something like that. It will not work,” explained Key.

Fast forward though to the Agenda interview of April 12 this year and you find Key trying to square the circle, in this hilarious exchange with Guyon Espiner :

GUYON: But isn’t it true that National has basically changed its tune on just about every major public policy platform, you look at climate change, you look at….


GUYON: It absolutely has changed its opinion on climate change, you were calling it a hoax just a couple of days ago. A couple of senior members of your party don’t even believe it’s true, even your potential transport spokesman.

JOHN: No, Guyon, you need to go and read the transcripts.

GUYON: I have.

JOHN: I have not said climate change is a hoax, I’ve said Kyoto is a hoax.”

As Hillary Clinton found about landing under fire in Bosnia though, someone will always have the tapes.


3. Now that we’ve got the hang of la methode, yesterday’s comments are a breeze to run through the Clarification Filter. Look closely at the quote that caused the problem : “We’re not a country that’s come about as a result of civil war or where there’s been a lot of fighting internally, we’re, we’re a country which peacefully came together”.

The initial point is fine. Yes, we’re not a country that came about through civil war. Stop right there. Then come the embellishments : “Or where there’s been a lot of fighting internally.” Probably, his brain was still hearing ‘civil war’ and extrapolating on that sort of ‘fighting internally’ but his internal gyro should have been telling him that he’s going off course, in a Maori land confiscations, Parihaka etc sort of way. Instead. Key flies straight into the cliff with the next, flailing embellishment : “We’re, we’re a country which peacefully came together.” The media training point from this could be : say things once, not three times. Stop at the Start Button. Cut back on the self paraphrasing, because it keeps on coming out weird. And hey, blame yourself when it does, and not everyone else.

I have some sympathy for Key about this gaffe thing, having been guilty of it myself this week. David Farrar on Kiwiblog makes the totally valid criticism that I should regret the ‘beyond tacky’ comment I made about Dachau concentration camp in a recent piece about National’s health policy. I do regret it, and apologise.

And what’s my ‘clarification’ of it? Everyone always has an excuse, and here’s mine. While typing away about how Tony Ryall had been suggesting money and salaries weren’t so much the issue in the health system – productive work was – I had a ‘what does this remind me of’ moment. Oh yeah, the ‘work will make you free’ concept at Dachau and typed that in. Bad, and a tasteless analogy. So I can see how it happens with Key. When you screw up, you have to fess up.


Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Scoopit
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • NewsVine
  • Print this post Print this post
    1. 24 Responses to “John Key and Things That Come Out Wrong”

    2. By Skeptic on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      Speaking of what else is becoming a pattern, Gordon, is your move away from journalistic objectivity, and towards shark-jumping.

      Let’s break it down:

      The “ we’re a country which came peacefully together” account of New Zealand’s march to nationhood that John Key delivered yesterday on Newztalk ZB was the latest example of what’s becoming a pattern. First we have the gaffe[…]

      No, it wasn’t a “gaffe”, Gordon, and your bias shows from this moment forward. John Key was specifically referring to the peaceful negotiations that led to the Treaty of Waitangi. The entire quote, which either if you were less lazy and actually read, or more honest and actually acknowledged, demonstrates that he was referring to the peaceful negotiations that led to the signing of the treaty of Waitangi. The comments Key made were remarkably similar to comments Michael Cullen delivered at Waitangi Day in 2005, and comments the Governor-General delivered at Waitangi this year.

      […]then everyone else’s startled/shocked response,[…]

      It wasn’t everyone else’s startled/shocked response, Gordon. It was a beat-up initiated by Michael Cullen, propogated by the Labour Party client-blog at the Standard …

      then the Key double-take, followed by the “ I was misquoted/taken out of context’ strategy.

      Which is sustained if you actually bear to look at John Key’s comments…

      It is a quite surprising trait in someone with his background. Lord help the financial markets if his communications to staff at Merrill Lynch were as prone to WTF moments as the glitches in his political utterances.

      How is this relevant? Oh, yes. Let’s repeat the envious, “John Key is a rich prick” barb, and see if you can win more voters to the Left. Heavens, it’s been such a stunningly successful strategy so far, hasn’t it?

      [Skeptic – I have edited out the rest of your comment and it’s still long. If you want to conduct a complete fisking it’s traditional to do so from your own blog.
      KTHX, Lyndon]

    3. By Peter Haynes on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      Thanks for clarifying all that. And for being brave enough honestly to admit a mistake. A good example to us all.

    4. By Dom on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      Oh well, at least if Key becomes PM we can see this thing on a daily basis. It will be good for a laugh, if nothing else…

    5. By Tim Dodgshun on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      When will you people learn? Politicians aren’t worth the time you spend listening to them, much less replying to what they say……

    6. By lyndon on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      Full context, as supplied by Gerry Brownlee:

      “We may be many voices but ultimately we are one people. One of the unique things about New Zealand is that we are not a country that’s come about through civil war or a lot of fighting internally. We’re a country that peacefully came together – Maori and the Crown decided from both partners’ side that it was in their interests to have a peaceful negotiation. That’s what the Treaty was, a founding document – a development document – for New Zealand, and I think that we could work things out in a peaceful, sensible and mature way has actually been a defining part of New Zealand’s history. It’s very important, and it’s important we honour that now”

      In the interests of openness I should confess that I don’t see how that improves things for Mr Key.

    7. By dan on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      I can’t believe this is the man we have to vote for if we want to get rid of Helen,

      We are truly going through a political dark ages in the western world.

    8. By david on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      there will be peace for our time! …uhh there was a world war?

    9. By Skeptic on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      Thank you, Lyndon. I appreciate that you do edit for brevity, just as the radio edited John Key’s statement on the peaceful lead-up to the Treaty of Waitangi for brevity, and gave it a very different potential meaning in the process.

      My original comment criticised Gordon for relying on the Standard as a major source of his material. The original beat-up was initiated by Michael Cullen, propogated by the Labour Party client-blog at the Standard (which happens, as Gordon knows, to be authored by employees of the Prime Ministers Office, the Communications Unit of the EPMU, and the Head Office of the Labour Party), and then here in Gordon’s column. The Herald this morning mentions that Michael Cullen has egg on his face when it is revealed that he said the same thing as John Key three years ago.

    10. By lyndon on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      While we’re compiling, here’s Cullen:

      “Our other national day, today, remains for many a source of argument and division rather than celebration or commemoration.

      This despite all that we in New Zealand have to be grateful for, to celebrate, to commemorate, even to just enjoy. A country of enormous beauty (still, despite our best efforts over many generations), a country which by any reasonable standards is prosperous, a country with a continuous political tradition unbroken by civil war or revolution for over 150 years, something a bare handful of countries can celebrate.”

    11. By Rongomai B on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      Uh ‘scuse me John Key but most of the conflict was after the treaty (1840) which peacefully brought us together….

      Via Wikipedia:

      The New Zealand Wars, sometimes called the Land Wars and also once called the Māori Wars, were a series of conflicts that took place in New Zealand between 1845 and 1872. The wars were fought over a number of issues, most prominently Māori land being sold to the settler (white) population.

    12. By Margaret Swift on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      What do you mean we will hear John Key gaffes, Do you really think if National is elected they will leave John Key as Leader, They will push him out and the same people who supported Ruthless Ruth and Slippery Shippley will take over the country. John Key is there because they know they cant win an election without a new face to show the electorate. They are all there hiding behind him.

    13. By Skeptic on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      That’s exactly what will happen, Margaret. Plus National will change electoral finance laws to tilt elections in their favour, silence free speech, make drastic changes that nobody else wants, and make it very difficult to vote them out of office.

      Oh, hang on. Labour’s already done that.

      Why would the largest political party in Parliament vote out the most popular politician in the country, by a very wide margin, just so that they get thrown out of office at the end of their term?

      Or is rationality not part of your thinking?

    14. By Paul Robeson on Jun 27, 2008 | Reply

      Psychic line reading $2.99
      December 24 2008

      The National leadership announced today it would increase its funding to the New Zealand Herald. The Herald is a much more efficient way to inform the public than the inefficient public broadcasters the minister said.

      This was consistent with the increase of funding for private schooling, as the expense of the public school system ministry sources explained.

    15. By David Tank on Jun 28, 2008 | Reply

      Fine then you most illustrious of commentators ignore the point of this article, fly your own kites and keep them aloft with hot air and wankery. The point is that this man (Keys) is a man of straw who uses the time honoured (and dispicable) traditions of NZ political discourse and dissembles whilst his bovver boys and girls strong arm the media.
      This all reveals a shallowness that ill befits a man who aspires to leading this country.
      T do not see a leader here.

    16. By David Tank on Jun 28, 2008 | Reply

      I meant “I do not see a leader here.”

    17. By Geoff Boucher on Jun 29, 2008 | Reply

      Isnt it wonderful how the media can scew polls. Theres something interesting about these polls. Has anyone noticed that the full 100% Of those asked have made their minds up? Surely there are some who dont say how they will vote also. How do we know which way they will vote? Is somebody making assumptions on their behalf? Second, polls which have been conducted using voter comments over land lines miss out a whole lot of potential voters so arent truly proportionately representative. Many working poor can’t afford landlines so who is making the assumptions on behalf of these people? Because these people are poor it is also likely they have benefited hugely under Labour by working for families tax credits, cheaper doctors fees/prescriptions, paid parental leave, government run ACC, 20 hours free childcare, a rise of minimum wages from $7 in 1999 to #12 now. Why would they vote National?

    18. By Deane Duxfield on Jun 30, 2008 | Reply

      Key a man of straw?

      You have got to be joking.
      He is a balloon in a room of flying pins an idiot, an imbecile a piece of the proverbial.
      So I will of course vote for him.
      As even though he doesn’t remember what he said the other day even if he becomes a D.I.C leader of this nation.
      I prefer it to a “wrecker and a hater” that dismisses the polls that dismiss her, that lies on radio and on record, that speaks with the mouth of a snake and takes the freedom of many to fulfil her career dreams and to do ‘one for the women’. Women that are as likely as an 83 year old now to find a Kiwi bloke to get with. The Kiwi good guys all left town you see.) She a part of a team, a Rat patrol who have high jacked NZ and decimated it sending cities full of Born New Zealanders off shore where I am and replacing them with Compliant refugees from more screwed up countries than us (the few dreg nations of the world that have an excuse we don’t have) like Commy China Crime and Rape ridden South Africa and democratic Zimbabwe. This just to keep an inward money flow that has produced the most distorted housing prices in the western world for an economy who’s GDP fails to justify the value of the Dollar and the country. These transients that boost up the Buck the house prices and hide the disaster as every business except the land dependent farting cows are leaving.
      As we build (thanks to Helen) a nation of Straw dependent cows and Passport buying immigrants, just to satisfy her silly femy Commy ideals.
      Here is the only democracy in the world where the leader goes to international communist conferences funded by tax of democracy endowed citizens.
      Hellen Lies -verified. Steals –Verified. Legalises theft for Her Filthy self –Verified. Bans Democratic freedom –Verified. and NZ citizens are SOOooo Stupid that it takes 3 elections to get her party to get a poll rating of 30%.
      We are Stupid. Put an idiot in charge of this country and we would do better.
      Key is of no promise and offers NZ Jack squat but freedom from categorical EVIL.

    19. By Elizabeth Smyth on Jun 30, 2008 | Reply

      Heavens Deane Duxfield…take a breath?

    20. By ak on Jun 30, 2008 | Reply

      Soooooo……not a big fan the Hellster then Deano? (meds, darling, meds…)

    21. By wiremu harpuka on Jul 1, 2008 | Reply

      Great stuff; for those not “au fait” with Key this is very helpful-as opposed to the rather presumptive tone of so many political journalists.

    22. By Syd on Jul 2, 2008 | Reply

      Hey Deano, you are clearly mad as a snake, but I do like passion in my politics – hence why I read your blogs Gordon.

    23. By Tangerine on Jul 8, 2008 | Reply

      I’m amazed that people like Deane continue to exist. Wonders never cease.

      Ignore all these fascists Gordon, good work!

    24. By Ben on Jul 21, 2008 | Reply

      I think Deane is right, they are both going to screw our country over, they both lie, they both cheat, they both lie about lying, to put simply they are both politicians. The same thing happens in America, or any other democratic country. At least in Oligarchy’s people don’t have to waste money and time on PR shit.

    25. By Jum on Mar 27, 2010 | Reply

      By Deane Duxfield on Jun 30, 2008 | Reply

      So, Deane, it is now 2010 – still feel the same?

    Post a Comment